Overworked drivers the main cause behind increasing road accidentsEven though the buses seem to be technically driven by two individuals, there is only one driver, authorities say.
Under existing laws, all passenger vehicles that travel for over 250 kilometres are required to have two drivers. But in most cases, vehicles plying long distances are being driven by a single driver, especially during the night, which is one of the major causes of increasing road accidents, traffic police, bus entrepreneurs and drivers say.
Of late, bus conductors have a driving licence even though they are not adept at driving, bus entrepreneurs admit. Procedures to acquire a licence are slack, ridden with irregularities.
On October 28, 2017, a bus carrying passengers returning after celebrating Chhath festival in Saptari met with an accident in Ghatbesi at 5 in the morning. Thirty-four passengers were killed. Santosh Chaudhary, the bus driver who was on the run after the accident, confessed that the accident was due to sleep deprivation.
On May 19 this year, a bus coming from Kakarvitta and heading to Kathmandu fell into the Trishuli River at Banchhetar in Gajuri, Dhanding, killing nine passengers. Investigation revealed that the driver in this case too had been awake the whole night.
Most of the buses plying during the night, especially in the eastern and central Tarai, are found not adhering to the two-driver rule. In some cases, the drivers drive their buses up to Narayanghat from Kathmandu, before returning the same route driving another bus heading to Kathmandu, handing over the bus they were initially driving to the drivers from Kathmandu. Hetauda is the prime resting spot for drivers from eastern districts like Rajbiraj, Janakpur, Dharan, Dhankuta, Saptari, Itahari, Biratnagar and Parsa, among others.
“Often transportation employers own two buses, and they themselves drive these buses,” said DSP Balkrishna Pokharel, who checks vehicles in Dhading. “During the night, they stay in Hetauda, waiting for the bus from Kathmandu. They drive the bus from Kathmandu forward to the next stop, which is usually a short duration and the driver from Kathmandu returns to the city with the bus the employers had initially driven. The drivers thus get overworked, risking an accident.”
According to Pokharel, even though the buses seem to be technically driven by two individuals, there is actually only one driver. Most of the accidents occur during the morning, he added.
Inspector at the District Traffic Police Office at Gajuri Netra Prasad Bhatta said that the office makes enquiries at various check posts along the highway. “The owners say they have changed the driver. And for the passengers, it looks like they have, but it’s just that the same driver is driving two different buses,” Bhatta said.
Bhatta said that while travelling long distances, passengers too need to be aware. “Though there are police stations at several spots, they are not everywhere,” Bhatta said. “The concerned authority should pay attention.”
Subash Bhatta, who drives a bus from Mahakali Yatayat, said that not every bus committee has made it mandatory to keep two drivers. “The committee I work for has many buses, but not as many drivers,” said Bhatta. “So even if the bus we drive is at rest, we are sent as alternative drivers. We are always working and don’t get much time to rest.” Bhatta added that this also has to do with the scant number of drivers who can drive heavy vehicles.
Rajkumar Bidawar, chief of police of Dhading, also said that there is a lack of skilled drivers. “Most of the drivers have been conductors and helpers first and they upgrade to being drivers but without any technical knowledge of heavy vehicles.”
Inspector Bhatta said that the police have often informed the bus committee and entrepreneurs about the rule of two drivers.
“Since the festival time is near, we are planning to keep long-distance buses under special watch,” said Bhatta, adding that even if the drivers follow traffic rules, about 90 per cent of the accidents can be prevented.
The Department of Transportation has a rule that a long-distance driver should take a half-hour rest after driving continuously for four hours, as dictated by the Transportation Management Act 2002.
Even though the Act has been in place for a long time, its implementation has been lacking. The Department has once again directed the transportation entrepreneurs to implement the rules rigorously after the August 9 incident.
According to the Department, the country witnessed a total of 8,611 road accidents in the year 2018/19; 254 passengers were killed while over 6,000 sustained injuries. Of them, 7,529 were due to the negligence of the drivers, 525 due to speed driving, 283 due to drink and drive, 67 because of machine malfunction. A study by the Department of Traffic Police shows that 78 percent of the accidents caused due to drivers’ negligence.