Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith made the comments after yesterday’s (Mar 27) cabinet meeting, stating he had received instructions from Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to ensure safety for the public and find long-term solutions for preventing bus crashes.
In an announcement similar to one made in 2016, following several deadly crashes, the minister said that double-decker buses with expired certificates will supposedly soon no longer be able to renew their papers. New private operators looking to register double-decker buses with the Department of Land Transport (DLT) will also not be able to do so, he added.
“We have asked the DLT to conduct inspections into the present buses, and those which fail to meet the department’s standards will not be allowed to travel long distances, as a preliminary safety measure,” Mr Arkhom said.
According to the ministry's reports, over 7,000 double-decker buses are registered with the DLT.
Statistics compiled by the Thailand Accident Research Centre from 10,000 public service vehicles concluded that vans are twice as likely to be involved in accidents as regular, single-level buses.
However, double-decker buses are six times more likely to cause fatalities then regular buses.
Investigations into last week’s bus crash in Nakhon Ratchasima’s Wang Nam Khieo district revealed the bus had been travelling at around 80km/h in a 60km/h zone.
The driver, 44-year-old Krissana Chutachuen, was also allegedly high on methamphetamine (ya bah) when the bus crashed into a concrete pillar.
Several of the passengers killed were reportedly flung out of the bus after it collided with the pillar.
“It is simply incorrect to believe that double-decker buses can travel long provincial routes at high speeds, and still maintain a safe standard for passengers,” Deputy Transport Minister Pailin Chuchottaworn said, regarding the accident.
“Operators who claim such buses have to be used to keep up with the high number of passengers are using this as an excuse. Such occurrences only seem to happen in Thailand.”
No specific deadline for the ban on double-decker buses has been set as of yet. However, Transport Ministry inspector Sarawut Songsiwilai said the DLT intends to report back on the matter by Friday (Mar 30).
According to him, upwards of 1,000 operators are still waiting to renew or apply for double-decker bus certificates.
“It would not be fair to the business owners if we were to suddenly issue a ban, since a formal announcement by the DLT has not yet been made, which means no official document to enforce a ban currently exists,” he said.
“But the Transport Minister’s announcement will likely result in a chain effect, where new operators will not attempt to register double-decker buses in the future.”
Mr Sarawut said it was proposed that a transitional period be given to the operators until the end of the year.
According to Mr Arkhom, inspections of double-decker buses have not been conducted by the DLT since 2013.
Mr Arkhom cited this as one of the reasons that many of the buses currently on the road stand at 4.3 metres, which exceeds the four-metre safety limit.
However, he said yesterday that the proposed ban would not spell the end for double-decker buses in the country.
Akin to those used in England, he said the buses could still be used within metropolitan or highly populated areas which force drivers to maintain safe speeds of around 30km/h.
In the meantime, Gen Prayut has already instructed transport authorities to conduct annual safety measures for the “Seven Dangerous Days” of Songkran immediately, instead of waiting for the festivities to actually begin.
Mr Arkhom said the ministry has already instructed the DLT and the Transport Co, Ltd, the latter of which operates provincial bus and van routes, to ensure none of their public vehicle drivers are intoxicated while on duty.
On Monday (Mar 26), two van drivers were arrested after they tested positive for ya bah use. The inspection was part of a probe into 20 male drivers on the Bangkok-Bang Pahan (in Ayutthaya) and Bang Pahan-Ayutthaya routes.
The first suspect, Damrongkiat (last name withheld), was arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) and possession of 157 ya bah pills. Somkiat, the second suspect, was given a DUI charge.
On a public note, Gen Wirachai Songmetta, deputy commissioner-general of the Royal Thai Police, announced police have already started safety precautions ahead of Songkran.
“We will be paying close attention to those driving over the speed limit, those driving without licences, driving under the influence of alcohol and those driving in lanes for oncoming traffic,” he said.
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