By PRATCH RUJIVANAROM
ALTHOUGH THERE are a limited number of double-decker coaches in Thailand, official regulations and monitoring of the vehicles needed to be improved, a road safety expert said after an accident killed 18 people at Nakhon Ratchasima on Wednesday night.
Many old buses that had not met current standards were still allowed to operate, while monitoring measures using GPS tracking were not effective to prevent accidents, Academic Centre for Road Safety director Dr Thanapong Jinvong said yesterday.
There were about 7,000 double-decker buses on the country’s roads, 1,500 of which were fixed-route transport buses and the remaining 5,500 operating as private for-hire vehicles, which were more problematic, because most of those vehicles did not meet current safety standards, he said.
“Many of the double-decker buses that registered before 2014 do not pass essential safety standards, such as the height of the bus being over 4.2 metres, and do not pass inclination tests at 30 degrees, so it is very risky if these buses to drive on dangerous and steep routes,” he said.
Although almost all buses already have GPS tracking installed, monitoring systems have proven ineffective in preventing accidents, because there is not a direct warning system linking the monitoring centre to drivers, and the speed limit for the vehicles is set at 90 kilometres per hour, regardless of the terrain and geographical features of the roads.
“The GPS system should also have different speed limits for the buses that fit the nature of each route, as it is far too fast for buses to drive nearly 90 kilometres per hour on steep and narrow roads,” Thanapong said.
However, the bus involved in the accident in Nakhon Ratchasima was equipped with GPS and it had been travelling at only 80 kilometres per hour.
The driver of the coach was arrested yesterday in the northeastern province and tested positive for substance use, provincial police chief Pol Maj-General Watcharin Boonkhong said yesterday.
The driver, identified as Krissana Juthacheun, was still insisting that he had lost control of the vehicle resulting in the crash because of a brake malfunction, Watcharin said. Krissana, who fled the scene after the crash, will undergo further testing to determine what narcotics he had ingested.
The coach was chartered by a group of mill operators and their families from Kalasin province to visit the beach province of Chanthaburi on Monday.
The vehicle was on its way back to Kalasin when the driver lost control while entering a downhill curve, drove across a road island and slammed into trees and five roadside stalls in Nakhon Ratchasima’s Wang Nam Khieo district, Nakhon Ratchasima Governor Wichien Jantaranothai said.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha was concerned about the event and had instructed Transport Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith to ask about progress in helping victims on Wednesday night.
Drivers on Highway Number 304, which sees frequent accidents, had to be cautious because the route was hilly and curvy, Wichien said. Authorities have posted traffic signs, painted traffic lines and installed barriers along the road as well as occasionally set up checkpoints to warn motorists.
Last December, Thailand was ranked first on the list of countries in terms of road fatalities by the World Atlas website, while the World Health Organisation revealed that the road accident death rate in Thailand was 36.2 deaths per 100,000.
According to the Road Accidents Data Centre, there have already been 3,762 deaths from road accidents since New Year through yesterday and 229,346 people injured.