DUBAI // Minibus drivers will be forced to observe a 100kph speed limit by next year.
Speaking after the 14-seater Toyota minibus crash that killed five passengers in Fujairahlast week, Major General Mohammed Saif Al Zaffin, head of the traffic department at Dubai Police, described minibuses as "ticking time bombs".
"I know that the Emirates Authority for Standardisation and Metrology has reduced the speed limit to 100kph and this will start to be implemented by 2013," he said.
One of the surviving passengers of the Fujairah crash remembers being thrown from the window of the bus after it hit a barrier and careered into a ditch. His colleague and friend with who he was chatting at the time of the collision, died on impact.
Brigadier General Ghaith Al Zaabi, the director of the Traffic Coordination Department, said 12 people died in minibus accidents in 2011, and 132 others were injured. He released these statistics to The National's sister Arabic newspaper, Al Ittihad.
In all, 10,725 minibus drivers broke traffic laws in 2011, according to statistics gathered by the General Directorate for Traffic Coordination at the Ministry of Interior. "The increasing number of violators calls for the intensification of traffic control," said Brig Gen Al Zaabi.
Neil Parkins, the general manager of Fleet Operations at Hertz UAE, said that despite taking every possible safety measure, 2.5 per cent of their minibuses were involved in accidents last year.
The company has 120 minibuses in their lease and rental fleet.
"We have two main concerns with these vehicles," said Mr Parkins. "One is that they are powered by 2.7 litre engines, making them capable of speeds above 150kph.
"At that speed they can be dangerous, and we give strict instructions to our drivers to keep their speed down to prevent any risk of accidents.
"Our other concern is the outdated design of the bench-style seats with lap seat belts. It is clear in the UAE that, in many cases, passengers do not use the seat belts."
Robert A Hodges, the chief operating officer at Emirates Driving Institute, described minibuses as the "most dangerous vehicles on the road".
"When fully loaded with 14 passengers, they become quite heavy, and with a high centre of gravity they can topple over more readily if they swerve or corner too quickly."
He added that the bodywork was fairly lightweight and crushed easily, risking further injury to occupants. "If the occupants are not wearing seat belts, they stand 20 times more chance of sustaining a serious injury or be killed."
The main reasons for minibus accidents and resulting casualties, he said, were bad driving and a lack of seat belts.
Overloading was another key concern. "There should not be more than one person per seat. And seat belts must be fitted to all such vehicles. Seat belts save lives," he said.
Mr Parkins agreed that the introduction of three-point seat belts as standard would help lower fatalities.
"If all minibuses were driven sensibly, and all passengers used the lap seat belts, there would be a significant reduction in the number of accidents and the level of injuries," he said.
Mr Hodges said drivers should be sent on mandatory course. "They should take specialist passenger safety and care training courses as well as advanced defensive driver training courses to prevent accidents," he said.
Transport officials in Dubai have said they are considering more stringent licensing requirements for minibus drivers. According to a senior official at the Roads and Transport Authority, the introduction of a "certificate of professional competence" is being considered.
This certificate would be required for any driver who intends to take up driving as a profession, but particularly if the vehicle is designed for transporting people.
Currently, anyone wishing to drive a minibus need only present a valid light-vehicle driving licence.
- Additional reporting by Racha Makarem and Wafa Issa