KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Saturday morning's bus crash at the North-South Expressway near Muar in Johor is a stark reminder of tragic incidents involving public transport during the festive season, Malaysian media reports said on Monday (Dec 26).
The crash cost the lives of 14 people, including three Singaporeans, while 16 were injured.
The coach bus they were in had departed from JB Sentral in Johor Baru and had been en route to Kuala Lumpur's Bandar Tasik Selatan Integrated Bus Terminal when it fell off the North- South Expressway at Kampung Jayo, Jalan Kangkar-Senangar, Pagoh, near Muar, at about 4am.
Many victims were flung out of the bus due to the impact. The bus driver and his baby daughter also died, while his wife was injured.
The crash has re-ignited a debate over the ban of night time express buses and making the wearing of seat belts compulsory.
Malaysian National News Agency (Bernama) chairman Datuk Seri Azman Ujang, in his news analysis on the incident, suggested banning express buses from travelling during 'sleepy hours' and mandatory use of seat belts for passengers as measures to prevent such road accidents in the future.
Road Transport Department (RTD) director-general Datuk Seri Nadzri Siron welcomed the proposals, saying he would discuss them with the RTD communities, Bernama reported.
Meanwhile, he suggested, bus operators could take the initiative and install seat belts for passengers. He also said that the proposal to ban night time express buses had been made before but could not be implemented due to lack of support from the industry and consumers.
Indeed, Peninsular Malaysia Malay Express Bus Operators Association deputy president Tajudin Mohd Yunus said the proposal to discontinue bus service at night was not in line with users' demand.
He said most passengers preferred to use bus service at night, especially for long journeys such as from Kuala Lumpur to Kota Bharu and Kuala Lumpur to Alor Setar.
"On bus travelling during 'sleepy hours', it is about the fitness of the driver and it is the responsibility of the operators to provide a safe and efficient service for their passengers," he said.
Pan Malaysian Bus Operators Association president Datuk Mohamad Ashfar Ali said the proposal to ban express buses from travelling during night time needed a thorough study before it could be implemented.
He said discussions between government representatives, industry players, experts in related fields, as well as express bus users, should be held to protect the interests of all parties.
"Just like the installation of seat belts for passengers, most new buses already have them, but how can the bus operators make sure the passengers put them on throughout the journey?" he asked.
If the proposed mandatory installation of seat belts came true, a special law should also be formulated to ensure passengers would use the safety equipment, he added.
In response to the accident, Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye, chairman of the Malaysian Institute of Road Safety (Miros), called on the government to set up a transportation safety board as an independent government investigative agency for civil transportation accidents.
The setting up of a board was a key recommendation set out by an advisory panel following a bus crash in Genting Highlands in 2013 that killed 37 people.
"This independent body should be staffed by professionals who can give opinions, ideas and solutions directly to the Parliament," he was quoted as saying by Bernama.