Sunday October 01, 2023

Highway tragedies

By Editorial Board
August 17, 2022

Two road tragedies have left behind devastated families as at least 28 travelers lost their lives in two unrelated accidents near Multan and Rohri. Twenty people lost their lives in an inferno resulting from a collision between a passenger bus and an oil tanker on the Multan-Sukkur Motorway (M5) on Tuesday morning. The bus was going from Lahore to Karachi when it hit the oil tanker from the rear side near Jalalpur Pirwala interchange. Had there been no fire, perhaps more victims of this accident could have survived. The charred wreckage at the site reminds us of so many earlier accidents that have taken place across Pakistan mostly on intercity highways and motorways. A few hours earlier, at least eight people lost their lives and over 20 were injured when a passenger coach overturned on the motorway and plunged into a ditch near Rohri in Sindh. Exactly four years ago in August 2018, at least 15 people were killed and nearly 30 injured in a collision between a bus and an oil tanker near Kohat on Indus Highway.

Oil tankers carry thousands of litres of petrol and in Pakistan there is hardly any check on the safety and security of these tankers. Many transporters use oil tankers that have a foreign chassis with a locally built body on it, which seldom fulfil the international requirements of robustness needed for intercity transportation of thousands of litres of oil. Then there is the question of passenger buses having overworked and underpaid drivers with hardly any training to follow highway rules and regulations. Since they are underpaid, they end up working multiple shifts including overnight driving. This sleep deprivation causes them to doze off while driving and ramming their buses into other moving or stationary vehicles. In the latest accident, the going theory is that the bus driver perhaps fell asleep on the wheel – though investigations should reveal the concrete reason behind the accident. Transport companies seeking more profits through cost-cutting ask drivers to work long hours. This callous negligence saves them a bit extra money but also causes terrible tragedies on roads. Unsuspecting passengers have no choice but to trust these companies for their safe travel.

After every such incident there is a customary ritual of authorities ‘taking notice’ and ‘seeking reports’. Nobody knows what happens after the notice, apart from a couple of announcements to offer compensation to the bereaved families. There is a need to develop a more comprehensive strategy to cope with this problem. Ideally there should be separate passageways for oil tankers that do not mix with passenger traffic. Second, there should be a strict check on oil-tankers which should be sturdy enough to withstand an impact of another vehicle. Lastly, bus transport in Pakistan needs regulation and scrutiny. At the moment there is no procedure for drivers working long hours. There should not be more than four hours of driving at a stretch by one driver and there should be no more than eight working hours in a day. Expressing grief is an insufficient way of handling such situations; much more needs to be done to prevent such recurring tragedies on our highways.