Safety is paramount

ARE the territory's buses really safe? After two serious accidents in as many days, involving vehicles from all the three main urban area operators, public concerns over bus safety must be investigated.

Are the fleets sufficiently modern and up to standard? Are the vehicles well maintained? Are drivers well-enough trained and disciplined? Are their working conditions satisfactory? Is the traffic properly policed? Should the police automatically man junctions where traffic lights are out of order? All these are legitimate questions to which the public deserves answers.

Some indications may emerge from the inquiries into this week's accidents. Some of the buses may have been travelling too fast. They need not have been speeding to have been moving too quickly for road-and traffic-conditions. It has been suggested that the driver of the bus in Monday's accident may have had too short a break between shifts. Are the bus companies' rosters worked out with administrative convenience or passenger safety in mind? In that instance, however, a much bigger question mark hangs over the safety of the vehicle itself. Buses should be almost impossible to topple.

Whatever the circumstances of these accidents, however, renewed attention must be paid to driver training. Lane-discipline and the maintenance of a safe speed and distance are a particular concern. Too many drivers handle their buses as if they were sports cars. A key requirement should be the installation of a tachograph in all buses to record speeds and provide hard evidence of driver behaviour. A useful innovation might also be an audible alarm to warn drivers - and passengers - whenever speed-limits were exceeded. But technical devices and strict policing are only aids to driver awareness. It is up to the bus companies to instil a sense of responsibility into their drivers and make passenger safety the paramount concern of their corporate cultures.