Mon, Dec 11, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Finding a remedy for traffic risks

By Yang Yung-nane 楊永年

The tragic tour bus crash that killed 22 people and injured 23 in Tainan County recently has severely shaken society. Many people, including bereaved family members, want to know what the real causes of the accident were.

Many people are blaming the accident on the bus' age.

Although we can't discount this factor, I also don't think we can ignore other causes, such as the driver's skills and training, the type of bus and other problems within the transportation system.

If we and -- in particular -- government traffic organizations can't thoroughly diagnose and remedy these issues, Taiwan's large tour buses will remain a risk. This can be analyzed on four levels.

First, whether or not the driver had sufficient skills and experience driving on mountain roads could be a problem. Driving on steep mountain roads is very difficult. If the driver didn't understand that he needed to shift into lower gear when going downhill instead of just riding the breaks, then he could put the bus at risk of brake failure.

I have personally experienced this, and know that drivers must rest their brakes for a while before they will work again. If the bus driver wasn't accustomed to driving in the mountains, this lack of proficiency could have led to the accident.

Therefore, drivers who don't have enough experience and skill in this area should be prohibited from driving in mountaineous zones.

Second, even if the driver's skills were up to par, problems with bus age or make could also have led to the accident. Take for example the tour bus that plunged 50m into a ravine in Nanchuang Township in Miaoli County killing four and injuring 26 in May last year.

Not only was it illegal for the driver to be operating the bus after having accumulated five infractions in the previous three years, but he was also driving a 15-year-old dual-level bus, the same kind involved in a major accident in September of last year.

Therefore, in addition to problems with the age of the vehicle and the driver himself, instability caused by dual-level buses' high center of gravity could also be one of the culprits.

Because dual-level buses are tall with a low chassis, their safety and stability is relatively low when driving in mountain areas. This is an area in which the government should set some appropriate standards for dual-level buses operating in the mountains.

Third, some people think widening the roads is the best way to stem the continuing tide of accidents, but I believe that road construction has already damaged the natural environment in mountain regions.

In the interest of protecting and respecting nature, we shouldn't follow this line of thinking. If we accept that mountain driving is difficult and that nature's beauty must be protected, then we should make a mountain driving test an important part of the licensing process.

Therefore we should provide tour bus operators with training and education on mountain driving both while on the job and beforehand. But providing driver training won't be an appealing option for money-driven bus companies, so the government will need to set up compulsory regulations.

Fourth, even though the systemic issues won't be easy to fix, they are extremely important. Two questions most worthy of consideration are why people used to driving in the US are afraid to drive in Taiwan, and why Taiwanese drivers suddenly abide by the US' strict traffic laws when they go there.

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