15 Oct 2010

Drivers to blame for accidents? It’s the pursuit of profit that’s deadly

Manila, Phillipines
When a bus plunged into a ravine in Benguet province in August, killing 42 people, its bus driver was immediately blamed even in the absence of an investigation. In that accident — and even in one the same month in Bicol where a beauty queen died and last year in Metro Manila where a young girl was killed – bus drivers were immediately accused of being drug addicts, reckless and unruly.
It is an accusation that doesn’t sit well with Sandy Hachoso, 40, a bus conductor who is also president of the Kabisig Bus Transport Workers Alliance, based in Manila.
It is convenient for the government to quickly pin the blame on drivers, Hachoso said, but real solutions to problems concerning transport safety would continue to elude the country if the government persists in demonizing the drivers while the sector remains “too deregulated,” He said President Aquino, who earlier called for a review of the factors causing these accidents, had ignored a “very vital issue” that affects the safety concerns of the industry: the working condition of the drivers.

Overworked milk cows 
Because of the largely privatized system of running the country’s public transport, especially the relatively more capital-intensive bus sector, bus operators are given much leeway in how they treat their drivers, conductors and mechanics. Based on practices in their sector, Hachoso said, “it would seem like the public transport sector is not covered by the Labor Code.”
A bus driver and conductor in Metro Manila usually work 18 to 20 hours on an average working day, for four to five days a week. “Because of low commissions, they are obliged to increase the number of their trips to increase their take-home pay,” Hachoso said.
It is the high stress of a very long working day and the chase for that pitiful commission that trigger competition among bus drivers and conductors for passengers. That they are forced to do so is the main reason why accidents happen, explained Hachoso.

Research on fatigue 
In a June 2008 report on The Journal Of Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, John D. Lee pored through 50 years of safety driving research and said at one point that “Fatigue represents a less prominent safety problem that may be under-reported because, unlike with alcohol, no forensic test can measure its presence.”
Smartmotorist.com cited a study by National Central University in Jhongli, Tatung University, Taiwan that “driving for just 80 minutes without a break can make motorists a danger on the roads.” They found that “drivers who do not take frequent rest stops have slower reactions than those who break up long journeys.”
It also cited recent international research suggesting that “driver fatigue is underrepresented in accident statistics, and some estimates show that it could be a contributing factor in twenty to twenty four percent of fatal crashes.”
To improve road safety, Hachoso urged the government to look deeply into the plight and working conditions of bus drivers and conductors and to consider the deregulation of public transport industry in the Philippines. The government “has given capitalists too much freedom to manage and profit from servicing public transport needs. The result is that the quality of this public service has suffered, causing hundreds of deaths in road accidents that could have been avoided.”

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