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Older bus drivers need tougher fitness tests

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 August, 2013, 2:55pm

Hong Kong has once again been shocked by a fatal accident involving a driver who collapsed behind the wheel of his vehicle. In what could be a sequence from a disaster movie, his double decker bus carrying dozens of passengers lost control and rushed down a notoriously steep road in Chai Wan, after its 57-year-old driver suddenly passed out. Sadly, this was not fiction. The runaway vehicle rammed into a taxi in the oncoming lane, killing its driver and two passengers, who were trapped inside the wreckage. Fifty-six passengers were injured. The bus driver has been released on bail after his arrest for dangerous driving causing death.

This horror involving public transport is not the first of its kind. Indeed, a rising number of crashes involving drivers in poor health has put the issue under the spotlight in recent months. In June, a bus driver suffering high blood pressure lost consciousness and his vehicle ran into a crowd waiting at a bus stop, killing one person and injuring five. Two similar accidents happened in July and August. The problem has reached the point where we can no longer take drivers' fitness for granted. The need for a review of policy is self-evident.

The bus company concerned requires only drivers aged over 60 to undergo more detailed medical checks such as an electrocardiogram. Those aged 50 to 59 are required only to undergo a routine annual check-up. The driver in the latest accident is said to have passed this check in July. But without more sophisticated tests for hidden diseases, a driver may be given a false sense of his fitness to work. The repeated accidents have reinforced the argument for more comprehensive checks for all public-transport drivers, regardless of age.

The danger of uncontrolled vehicles cannot be overstated. The latest casualties are a sad reminder of the importance of keeping unfit drivers off the road. It's time the government and bus companies reviewed the health-check system. They should not wait for disaster to strike again before imposing more stringent requirements for drivers.