高速バス事故 再発防止に安全運行の徹底を

The Yomiuri Shimbun (May. 2, 2012)
Safety must be paramount when operating buses
高速バス事故 再発防止に安全運行の徹底を(5月1日付・読売社説)

Sunday's expressway bus accident seems to suggest that safety concerns have been put on the back burner due to intense price-cutting competition.

Just before dawn Sunday, in the first weekend of the Golden Week holidays, a bus smashed into a noise-blocking wall on the left side of the Kanetsu Expressway in Gunma Prefecture, killing seven passengers and injuring 39 others, some of them seriously.

The wall pierced the front of the bus and ripped through the vehicle, illustrating the sheer impact of the crash.

The bus driver told police that he fell asleep at the wheel. Police on Monday obtained a warrant to arrest him on suspicion of negligent driving resulting in death and injury, and searched the office of the bus operator in Chiba Prefecture where the driver worked. An exhaustive investigation must be conducted to pinpoint the cause of the accident.

The bus left Kanazawa on Saturday night and was scheduled to arrive at Tokyo Disneyland on Sunday morning. The trip was organized by a travel company in Osaka Prefecture that sought participants online and entrusted their transportation to the bus company.

Such bus trips have become increasingly popular, especially among young people, because they are cheaper than traveling by plane or train and can be easily joined by applying over the Internet. The number of people going on these trips has been rising.


Deregulation spurs business

Deregulation of the bus charter business since 2000 has made it easier for new entrants to join the industry. The number of bus operators had jumped to about 4,500 in fiscal 2010.

As competition has intensified, some observers have pointed out safety problems emerging in the industry, such as the excessive workload placed on bus drivers. Sunday's accident, it may be said, turned these concerns into a reality.

The bus in Sunday's accident had only one driver, and no replacement driver had been assigned. Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry regulations set upper limits for the driving hours and distance allowed for a driver per day.

The bus operator in question said, "There was no problem with the operation of the bus." But was it appropriate that only one driver was assigned for an overnight trip over such a long distance?

It is essential to bring to light any problems with the company's operational management.


Do more to prevent repeat

Some people have pointed out that violations by bus operators--such as excessive working hours for drivers--have become par for the course. The transport ministry has left itself open to criticism for belatedly taking measures to prevent this.

To prevent a repeat of Sunday's accident, the ministry must tighten its supervision of bus companies to ensure their vehicles are driven as safely as possible.

It is also problematic that under current law, travel agents are not responsible for ensuring the safety of passengers on trips they organize. Many bus operators have complained that "travel companies have presented tour schedules that turn a blind eye to the costs needed to ensure safety."

To make sure buses are driven safely, legislative steps must be taken to swiftly establish a system that makes it mandatory for travel agents to take legal responsibility for traffic accidents involving these buses.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 1, 2012)
(2012年5月1日01時10分 読売新聞)

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