A timely measure | Daily News

A timely measure

Saturday's road tragedy in Nanu-Oya which claimed the lives of seven persons including five members of the same family and caused injuries to 41 students of Thurstan College, Colombo who were travelling in the bus returning from a school trip, which crashed into a van and a three-wheeler, has now made the concerned authorities to think of devising measures to prevent the spate of road accidents that has been taking a heavy toll of lives in recent times. Apparently, as an initial step, beginning yesterday, the condition and road-worthiness of all buses -both SLTB and private - were subjected to a thorough inspection in the district where the tragedy occurred and also elsewhere, jointly by the office of the Registrar of Motor Vehicles and the Police. The inspection saw long lines of buses waiting their turn on many main roads, which, needless to say, caused inconvenience to the passengers who gave vent to their anger as shown on television. Hence, it would have been much better if the checking had been done at the point of origin or the journey's end.

Nevertheless, the measure was necessary to prevent such tragedies in the future. It is being reported that the number of road fatalities in this country closely rivaled the death toll in the three decades of war. Many of those who lost their lives in road accidents had been breadwinners of families who were left orphaned. The Cabinet, meanwhile, approved compensation to the families of the Nanu-Oya victims. Here too what is needed is support on a permanent basis to those left behind.

Meanwhile, steps should be immediately taken to remove from the roads not only unroadworthy buses and all public transport vehicles, the inspection should be extended to include all vehicles for the same reason, though this could prove to be a Herculean task. It is not only buses that cause road fatalities, other vehicles too are equally involved, if not more, especially heavy vehicles travelling at night on long haul journeys. More often than not, it is lack of sleep and weariness of those driving vehicles for long distances that are the chief causes of horrendous road tragedies. Rest, for heavy vehicle drivers on long haul trips should be made compulsory during the journey. Driving under the influence of liquor should receive the stiffest penalty - including jail terms. Age too is a factor (the driver of the bus involved in the Nanu-Oya tragedy was 62-years old). Old age slows down one's reflexes and a fraction's delay could prove fatal. Hence, an age limit too should be imposed on those taking the wheel. Those with various illnesses, especially heart conditions should not be allowed to drive. Sudden heart attacks and epileptic fits of those behind the wheel could lead to frightening consequences. While at the wheel, drivers in buses should also refrain from talking to others which could break his concentration if over-absorbed in such conversation. Sometime ago many schoolchildren were killed when a train crashed into a bus at a level crossing in Balapitiya. The driver was said to be in conversation with a passenger while driving.

Driving competence too is of paramount importance as does the condition of the vehicles. There have been many instances where those behind the wheel were found to be incompetent resulting in tragedies. More often than not driving schools issue competence certificates prematurely to the learners due to the urgency in going abroad for jobs as drivers and for other reasons. Hence, the driving schools too should be brought under scrutiny by the relevant authorities.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education has prohibited school trips that exceed more than 100 kilometres of travelling (if it is a one day trip). This could be to prevent travelling in the night (it was very late in the night when the students of Thurstan College were returning from the trip). Normally school trips are educational in nature and such a rule limiting the distance could defeat this purpose. For instance, places such as Kandy and Galle are well known places for such educational excursions for students. However, with distance limits imposed, these cities will now be No Go areas for students in Colombo schools (both Kandy and Galle are more than 100 kilometres from Colombo). In the alternative, in order to avoid travelling in the night, as per the new rule, the schools will have to provide overnight accommodation to the students. While privileged schools may be able to afford this, it would certainly be out of the question for the lesser ones. Hence, the Ministry should reconsider this directive lest this leads to allegations of differential treatment. What is of importance is to ensure that the buses carrying the students are manned by competent drivers - preferably young-and the buses are in good shape and condition. The Ministry should also ban boat rides during school trips since there is all likelihood of overcrowding in the boats by enthusiastic students leading to a tragedy.



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