On November 8 morning, I read the report “Bus rams several vehicles, killing teenager in Bayan Lepas”. Sadly, a 16-year-old student was killed and several others injured at a traffic light junction in Penang at 6.30pm the day before. The report stated the tour bus went out of control due to faulty brakes.

This prompted me to comment, “Cannot be faulty brakes. It is a tour bus probably driven by the same driver who should be able to notice any difference in vehicle performance and brakes do not fail suddenly in city streets. Overuse of brakes while descending Genting or Cameron can result in overheating and brake fade. The cause was probably due to distracted driving and likely to be gazing or using the phone”.

Later, there was a fresh report “Dashcam footage shows speeding bus crashing into house, driver nabbed” with a video footage recorded by a dashboard camera. Two motorcyclists could be seen waiting behind some cars at the centre lane and both turned their heads towards the left just before the bus barrelled past noisily on the left lane at high speed.

Shockingly, the bus did not slow down. It shot passed the traffic lights crashing everything in its path, including two cars and a concrete wall fencing until the front end of the bus plunged down to lower ground. It stopped when the lower front end of the vehicle crashed to the ground.

Tragically, Muhammad Saifullah Muhammad Hafiez, who delivered pizza part-time on his motorbike, died on the spot after being hit by the bus. His mother, Siti Hajar Ghazali, wrote a heart-wrenching post on Facebook for her eldest son, whom she fondly calls Chaq.

She wrote, “Chaq, I am not strong, you are our life. You taught me how to be a mother and friend. Thank you for being a wonderful son. Even when you were tired, you’d still do what I had told you to do. Now, rest my dear. Wait for me, your dad and your brothers and sisters there. We accept this as Allah’s will. He gave us Chaq for only briefly, 16 years and five months”.

It became a double whammy when Southwest district police chief Superintendent AA Anbalagan disclosed that the 49-year-old bus driver was tested positive for methamphetamine and did not possess a driving licence. As such, the motor insurance company is unlikely to pay for the driver’s legal liability by repudiating cover as the terms and conditions were not adhered to.

Suing the driver will be a waste of time and money if the driver has no financial means to pay compensation or assets to liquidate. However, Chaq’s family could try seeking compensation from the tour bus company for allowing an unlicensed driver to handle the bus. If nothing is forthcoming, file a civil suit against both company and driver.

Apart from finding ways to make tour bus operators more responsible, the authorities should make full use of a large pool of professionals who are trained to be observant and are the best eyes and ears on the ground. They are the licensed tourist guides, numbering more than 15,000 nationwide and they could easily be mobilised and connected using an app.

Unless granted exemption by the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture, there must be a tourist guide on board a tour bus with passengers. Both parties must be made more accountable by making it standard procedure to check the validity of each other’s licence. And if one party is suspected to be on drugs, it must be reported before something untoward happens.

It will be interesting to find out how this 49-year-old driver without driving licence and on methamphetamine managed to slip through the cracks in the system. And even more dangerous are charter buses licensed under “Bas Catar” that does not require a tourist guide on board and most of them are old, poorly maintained and cheap, making them popular.

The authorities have introduced or recommended a long list of measures to ensure road safety, but they are only as good as their implementation and enforcement. With Visit Malaysia 2020 around the corner, are the authorities working in concert to improve safety and security of tourists?

Should a tragedy occur involving a large number of passengers in a tour bus, are contingency plans in place to minimise casualties and damage? Just one major accident, if badly handled, could have an adverse impact on tourist arrivals.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.