Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Illegally Configured Tour Bus Crashes on Phuket

Serious motor vehicle accidents on Phuket [Thailand] are sadly becoming a weekly event, largely because of remiss inspections by local officials [of commercial vehicles] and because of the local government's failure to levy penalties against those who put the public at risk.

Earlier today (October 26) a tour bus filled with 36 Russian tourist who had just arrived at Phuket International Airport were being transported to the Duangjitt Resort in southern Patong when the bus veered off the road and crashed. Fortunately, no one was killed, although a number of the tourists did sustain minor injuries.

COMMENT: Now, here is the interesting part. The tour bus operator had registered the vehicle with 23 passenger seats, but following registration, the owner reconfigured the bus to carry 36 passengers, which impacted on the bus' ability to maneuver around curves.

An initial investigation by Transport Department officers indicates it was not a brake malfunction that led the bus to plung off Patong Hill, but rather the suspension could not sustain the load, thereby causing the accident. The area where the driver needed to maneuver around involves a very steep bend which is attributed to numerous road accidents, even in good weather.

One person died in a bus crash on the same bend in March. After that crash, the driver fled and is still wanted by police. In a tourist bus crash just four days ago on Phuket's other heavily trafficked hill, the route between Karon and Chalong, a Chinese woman was killed.

Despite the driver's lying to authorities that the brakes malfunctioned, no such problem has been identified by inspectors. Consequently, the bus driver is likely to face more intense questioning from police tomorrow and Transport Department officers will be beginning an urgent review of bus registrations and driver quality.

Of course, the real question in all of this is why did the Transport Department NOT conduct inspections and levy fines before this and other accidents occurred?

Unless tour organizers can have some success in improving bus safety on Phuket, forcing proactive inspections of commercial vehicles and mandating driver competencies, integrity and oversight, tour organizers should exercise some backbone and demonstrate accountability to travelers. Alternatively, Phuket, given its poorly maintained roads, unsafe buses and non-existent enforcement, should be removed as a destination and tour organizers should mandate vehicle specification requirements at new destinations.

Fortunately, the 36 Russians on board this "coffin on wheels" were not seriously injured or killed. But, what if most of them had been killed? Then what? A wrongful death suit against the tour organizer?

Perhaps I value my life more than others, but if I were directed to get aboard what is quickly becoming an island of unsafe and unreliable transportation, I would alternatively visit a different island in Asia, where there is a greater probability of my getting to my hotel in one piece than not.

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