IT has happened again. The story is the same. Only the details vary. A heavy vehicle veers out of control and smashes into a number of cars, killing many innocent lives. Screaming media headlines follow: “Five die in fiery accident”, “Seven injured in bus-trailer crash on PLUS highway”, “Three dead, 14 injured in bus-trailer crash near Pagoh”, “16 injured in five-vehicle crash near Tangkak” ad infinitum. Well, almost. The latest was on Oct 7 when a trailer loaded with iron ore from Johor veered out of control from its lane and slammed into three vehicles dragging them against a concrete divider at Km255.3 of the North-South Expressway near the Menora Tunnel near Kuala Kangsar, Perak. Five people were burnt to death in the accident, including an infant. The driver is reported to have told the police that the brakes of the trailer did not work. This is a narrative told ad nauseam.
Safety experts tell us accidents don’t just happen; They are caused. We agree. What is needed, though, is a holistic approach to an issue that keeps happening with clockwork regularity. In short, the authorities — from the Transport Ministry to Puspakom and every enforcement entity in between — need to look at the root cause of such accidents to ensure that measures are put in place to end deaths on our roads. The source of the problem is often in the state of the vehicle or the state of the driver. Let’s take the state of the vehicle. If the driver’s words are to be believed, the trailer’s brakes were not functioning. This raises questions about the state of the trailer. Was it roadworthy? Was it maintained regularly? Why was it allowed to take a long-distance journey heavily laden with iron ore? The trailer, it appears, had 11 summonses issued against it and yet the vehicle was allowed on the road. Then there is the state of the driver. Was the driver fit to be behind the wheel of a heavy vehicle? Was he well-rested? It is not unknown for lorry drivers to be incentivised by the number of trips they make. Driver drug addiction is not unheard of either. The rampaging RapidKL bus incident on Aug 16 is still fresh in our minds. There, a driver who was high on drugs rammed into seven vehicles, leaving six people injured. How did a drug addict get behind the wheel of the bus?
If the government is really serious about saving the lives of people on our roads, it needs to make the owners — be they individuals or companies — accountable. Owners with a track record of employing drivers who are drug addicts and serial traffic offenders must have their business suspended. Both the directors and the companies concerned must be slapped with a hefty fine. If they do not mend their ways, the authorities should put them out of business. It is time owners and directors took some responsibility. After all, it is within their power to ensure that only fit men drive and roadworthy machines take to the road. Killing machines and men must be kept off the road at all costs.