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Driven into a corner

M'sian express bus operators say drivers exploit shortage to escape punishment for reckless driving

Express bus operators in Malaysia say that they are finding it difficult to rein in their drivers.

The reason: The drivers are a law unto themselves and do not really care about safety.

The operators allege that the drivers are exploiting a shortage in the industry.

An operator, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Malaysia's The Star that one of his drivers sabotaged his bus two weeks ago after being reprimanded for speeding.

He said: "We called him up and asked why he was driving so fast. He replied: 'Hey, the steering is in my hands, I do what I like. You think I'm afraid (of you)?'

"Then he took the bus somewhere and poured sand into the engine."

He said even though a police report was lodged, no action was taken against the driver, who quit and joined another bus operator.

The focus on Malaysia's deadly roads comes after a double-decker express bus plunged into a ravine along the Segamat-Kuantan trunk road on Sunday, killing a Briton.

There were 38 tourists on the bus, including 20 Singaporeans who suffered minor injuries.

Relating another case, the operator said a driver who was ticked off for speeding, threatened to walk away and leave his passengers by the roadside.

DICTATE TERMS

Another operator, who also declined to be named, said he had also come across drivers who dictate terms to their employers.

"They don't say it to my face, but they have told my other drivers they don't care if I take action against them," he said.

He added they cannot afford to sack errant drivers because of the acute shortage. Suggestions by the industry to fill this shortage with foreign drivers, even temporarily, were rejected by the government, he said.

He said increasing wages to woo better drivers was also difficult, saying bus fares have not gone up since 2009 despite a rise in operational costs.

Meanwhile, faced with an increasing number of bus crashes, the government has decided to take drastic measures to tackle the problem.

These include making it mandatory for express bus drivers to undergo drug tests at bus terminals nationwide, and banning double-decker buses from hilly terrain, the New Straits Times reported.

The drug tests began yesterday.

Deputy Transport Minister Abdul Aziz Kaprawi said the National Anti-Drug Agency and the road transport department will conduct the tests.

He said the drivers would be allowed to start their journey only if they pass the tests. The screening will affect about 9,000 drivers, the minister said.

Mr Aziz also said his ministry had decided to suspend double-decker buses from plying six accident-prone hilly routes - Cameron Highlands, Genting Highlands, Bukit Tinggi and Fraser's Hill in Pahang, Gunung Jerai in Kedah and Bukit Larut in Perak.