Sat, Jul 26, 2003 - Page 2 News List

Tragic bus accident highlights the need for adequate public safety measures

NO EXIT The victims of the horror crash were trapped inside the bus because an extra seat had been placed next to the emergency exit door, which had been sealed

By Melody Chen  /  STAFF REPORTER

A tragic bus accident on Monday has again exposed how Taiwanese people tend to take chances, a columnist wrote yesterday.

A bus rammed into an oil tanker on National Highway No. 2 when trying to avoid a broken vehicle in the road. Six passengers were killed and four injured in the fire that followed.

Among the dead was Shih Ya-liang (施亞良), a promising young dancer.

The Dragon Bus Company, which operated the bus, maintained on Monday its safety measures were "sound."

Two days later, accident investigators found the exit door on the bus was sealed, with an extra seat installed next to the door.

The bus company then issued an apology, admitting its installation of a seat next to the exit door was "improper" and promised to improve the situation.

Lee Ming-fang (李明芳), a survivor of the accident, said a fire broke out when the bus hit the oil tanker.

"But the fire was not big at the beginning," the 24-year-old said.

Passengers even had time to discuss how to escape the fire after the accident happened, Lee said.

While bus driver Chen Ming-sheng (陳明昇) fled the flaming vehicle, he told passengers who were still trapped inside the bus to escape through the windows.

Hammers were placed close to seats for passengers to use to smash windows in order to escape in an emergency, the bus company claimed.

But the victims' families questioned the usefulness of the hammers and accused the bus company of failing to teach passengers how to use the hammers.

According to Lee, the passengers might not have been able to detect the signs indicating the whereabouts of the exit door because thick smoke quickly filled the bus after the fire broke out, blinding the victims.

After the accident, the Ministry of Transportation and Communications ordered the country's nearly 10,000 tourist buses to undergo safety checks within a month.

According to a Taipei transportation official, many domestic bus companies imported basic frames for buses and installed other accessories on their own to save costs.

Comparing Taiwan's bus companies, the official said buses operated by the formerly state-owned Taiwan Motor Transport Company are among the safest.

"The company imported its buses from the US. The buses cost NT$12 million each. Passengers can open the bus windows with their hands, so it would be easier for them to escape if an accident occurs," he said.

But most buses owned by private companies only have three exits: the front door, the middle door and the emergency exit door.

"The windows on the buses were completely sealed. Passengers could not open the windows with their hands," the official said.

Lee Chieh (李介), a columnist for the Chinese-language newspaper China Times, said in an article published yesterday that "Taiwanese people relied too heavily on their luck."

"Taiwanese people always believe bad things will not occur to them. They tend to believe things that could happen simply would not happen," Lee wrote.

The Ministry of Transportation and Communications has been reviewing its policies since the accident. The fine for bus companies that install seats next to exit doors is between NT$1,800 and NT$3,600.

The ministry has been considering whether to demand that bus companies air videos showing passengers how to escape.

It halved the number of Dragon Bus Company buses operating between Taipei and Taichung from 144 to 72. The bus company was fined NT$90,000.

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