x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Police call for ban on passenger minibuses

After another minibus crash brings the death toll to 76 this year, officials want to ban them from being used as people carriers.

Six people travelling in a minibus were killed in an accident on Al Habab Road last week in which a passenger from another car also died.
Six people travelling in a minibus were killed in an accident on Al Habab Road last week in which a passenger from another car also died.

DUBAI // Minibuses are "ticking time bombs" that should be banned as a means of transporting passengers, the head of traffic police said yesterday. Maj Gen Mohammad Zaif al Zafein, the director of the traffic department of Dubai Police, said his section had asked the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) to ban the vehicles. Minibuses, normally designed to carry eight to 10 people, are considered especially unsafe when overcrowded. This year alone they have been involved in accidents that have claimed 76 lives. "Minibuses lose their balance easily when the driver speeds, which makes them a ticking bomb on the road," said Maj Gen al Zafein. "To use minibuses as a means to transport passengers is life endangering, and their use should be limited to the transportation of goods." A minibus apparently overfilled with workers rolled over on the Jebel Ali-Lehbab Road on Sunday after hitting a car. Seven people were killed and 11 injured, two critically. The proposal is in its primary stages, and no timetable has been given for when the ban might be implemented. But Maj Gen al Zafein confirmed that the RTA, which is responsible for generating such legislation, had been supportive of the idea. "They understand the necessity of finding a solution for this problem," he said.

Overcrowded minibuses - the one in Sunday's accident was carrying more than a dozen people in its 11 seats - become top-heavy, which makes them more likely to turn over. Many companies that use minibuses to transport their workers put more passengers inside than the bus is designed to carry, police say. Because they are light vehicles, minibuses often do not fare well when they are involved in serious accidents. "The problem with minibuses is that they are not as strong as other vehicles when dealing with impact," Dr Younis Kazim, the director of medical affairs at Rashid Hospital in Dubai, said earlier this year. For those reasons, officials believe, the vehicles should not by used for passenger transport, "The situation is alarming, and to prevent more deaths, a ban on transporting passengers in these is needed," Maj Gen al Zafein said. "The solution of this problem is to a total ban on transportation of people in minibuses, and not to have the minibuses under a different category from light vehicles, because they are light vehicles and with a light structure. "The combination of speed, the light structure of the vehicle and number of people which are exceeding the capacity of the bus is a very dangerous one and must be addressed." Maj Gen al Zafein suggested the ban would include the use of minibuses by families. Officials also said minibus drivers are often not properly trained, leading to reckless behaviour and speeding. No special licence is required to operate minibuses, although they are designed to carry more people than ordinary cars.

After two major minibus accidents earlier this year that left six people dead and 20 injured - many of them with brain injuries and multiple fractures - Dubai officials considered changing licensing requirements. Now, there is no specialised test. Drivers simply must possess a valid light vehicle licence proving they have been driving in the UAE for at least three years. "Bad driving behaviours need actions after training and getting the licence, and this is what we are working on in our strategic plan for the year 2009-2010," Ali Abdullah Jassim, the director of licensing at the RTA, said in March. "Among the things being considered is the introduction of a 'certificate of professional competence'." In late June, Dubai Police launched a two-week safety awareness campaign aimed at drivers of minibuses. Maj Gen al Zafein emphasised at the time that the companies were also responsible for ensuring their drivers followed UAE traffic laws and did not drive dangerously. "The responsibility for the safety of passengers is on their necks, and they should ensure the safety of the vehicle," he said. Police have not assigned fault in the accident on Sunday, which occurred with the minibus made a left turn and was hit by a car carrying two people, one of whom was killed. Last year, minibus accidents killed 31 people in Dubai. wissa@thenational.ae