x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Target UAE’s bus drivers for lower road toll

Buses feature disproportionately in road crashes. Should their drivers have to operate to a higher standard than other road users to account for the preciousness of the cargo?

The latest bus crash in which 13 labourers were killed in Dubai was depressing both for its avoidability and apparent inevitability. It occurred just days into a campaign cracking down on vehicles using the hard shoulder, as seems to have been the case in this accident, when the speeding bus struck a parked truck. It follows countless similar accidents involving buses and mini-buses, prompting the question of what can be done to stop this happening again.

The answer will be multifaceted and for the most part is the one already being pursued: educating drivers, passing laws to make the roads safer and then enforcing those laws to the point where there is compliance. Nobody should underestimate the difficulty of changing entrenched driver behaviour but the horrific results of Saturday’s crash showed the need for efforts to be redoubled.

However, the disproportionate number of buses involved in crashes – and the high death tolls that follow – also calls for a specific response. Quite rightly, the UAE differentiates between drivers who transport potatoes and those whose cargo is people. The responsibility for their passengers’ safety justifies a higher standard for bus drivers.

There is a limit to how much can be done at the testing stage. Most drivers know the rules and are able to follow them when being assessed for their bus licence, knowing full well that the way they actually drive on the road would cause them to fail. Once licenced, they resort to safety shortcuts such as speeding and using the hard shoulder to complete their journeys sooner. Until this mindset changes, the UAE will not make substantial improvements to its road toll.

In this, bus drivers are no different to construction workers who circumvent safety rules in a short-sighted attempt to make their lives easier. In both cases, rigorous enforcement will provide the solution.

One question for the authorities is whether an even tougher standard ought to be applied to bus drivers, similar to the Public Service Vehicle licence in Britain. In Australia, drivers of buses and taxis have a lower number of black points that can be accumulated before they have their licence suspended or even cancelled.

As an incentive to achieving and maintaining a higher standard, drivers of passenger vehicles could receive better pay than other drivers.

These kind of initiatives are needed to make UAE roads safer and help prevent a repetition of Saturday’s tragic loss of life.