Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 August 2020

Minibus deaths highlight need for better safety

This week's fatal accident stresses the importance of driver behaviour and vehicle maintenance

The minibus was partially crushed when it hit a stationary lorry on Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Road, near City Centre Mirdif mall. Courtesy Dubai Police
The minibus was partially crushed when it hit a stationary lorry on Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Road, near City Centre Mirdif mall. Courtesy Dubai Police

No one can have failed to have been horrified by the pictures of a white minibus, crumpled as if it were no more than a piece of paper after ploughing into the back of a lorry parked on the hard shoulder. Eight of the workers on board, including the driver, died in the collision; the remaining six suffered injuries. The fatal incident is tragic enough. What is even more tragic is that such an occurrence is not the rarity it should be. In the past eight months alone, minivans have been involved in 34 accidents in Dubai, for example. In the same period last year, that figure was 35. And the shocking memory still lingers of the UAE's deadliest road crash five years ago, when a goods lorry overturned and crashed into a bus, killing its 21 passengers, most of them Bangladeshi workers commuting to work.

On the UAE’s roads, the sight of such minibuses stranded by the roadside after experiencing a burst tyre or a mechanical failure is all too familiar. On board are usually workers, waiting to be ferried to or from their day’s duty. They deserve to know when they step on board at the beginning and end of every day that they are putting their lives in safe hands.

There have been increasing calls to ban such minibuses. The Federal Traffic Council has proposed scrapping their use for schoolchildren from 2021 and banning them altogether by 2023. The organisation says they should only be used to carry cargo, not people. In the aftermath of Monday’s accident, Maj Gen Mohammed Al Zafeen, the assistant commander-in-chief and chairman of the FTC, described the vehicles as “not fit for human transportation” because they lacked certain safety features, including a front crumple zone, which would have prevented the kind of damage witnessed this week and possibly saved lives. Companies operating such minibuses have a responsibility to ensure they undergo regular safety checks and are equipped to protect their passengers.

But beyond that, the accident has sounded an alarm once again about driver behaviour. While the cause of Monday’s crash is not yet known, driving while tired or for prolonged periods of time is proven to increase the risk of accidents. Companies have a responsibility to ensure their drivers are fit to travel and take proper rest breaks. Meeting tight deadlines is no excuse to compromise safety. Drivers too must take responsibility by ensuring they are fit for purpose, avoid excessive speed and remain alert and aware of other road users.

Overall, the number of road deaths in the UAE has decreased by more than a third over the past five years, which shows a host of measures, including scrapping the speed buffer zone and enforcing seatbelt laws, are helping to make roads safer. Those initiatives must go hand-in-hand with safer behaviour from all who use the roads – because no one should have to fear, when waving a loved one off to work, that they might not return.

Updated: October 1, 2019 07:15 PM

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