Eight more people died in yet another minibus accident on Shaikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Road on Monday. Over the years, accidents caused by these highly unreliable modes of transport have claimed more than 30 lives and scores, including schoolchildren, have been injured.
Seven people died in 24 accidents involving minibuses in Dubai alone in 2018 and 34 traffic accidents were caused by minibuses in the first eight months of this year.
With the latest number of fatalities, the question is not whether these vehicles need to be banned — all passenger minibuses will be banned in the UAE by January 2023 and those used to transport students banned by September 2021, with the Roads and Transport Authority’s ban on minibuses transporting students already in effect from March 2016. The question is: will this window of time be urgently reviewed and shortened?
With an estimated 50,000 minivans operating across the country, used mainly for passenger transport, predominantly for the low-income segment of workers ferried from their accommodations to work site and back, the probabilities of future fatalities in minibus accidents cannot be ruled out.
A renewed focus on minibus driver training will also help. For instance, do these drivers know that the vehicle is inherently unstable at high speeds due to its high centre of gravity?
The fact is, most minibuses are not designed with human cargo in mind. With diminished safety features as compared to regular passenger vehicles, these cans on wheels turn into high-risk transport options when passengers are packed inside its confines — most minibuses carry more passengers than they are meant for — and human error on part of the driver delivers the last blow.
In case the dates for the ban cannot be advanced, authorities should take other, immediate, measures to ensure minibuses shed their death-trap reputation. Abu Dhabi, for instance, has mandated that all 15-seater minibuses be fitted with anti-lock braking system (ABS), seat belts and head restraints for all passengers and other regulations that insist on safety compliance.
It will also not allow minibuses older than 10 years to ply on the roads. To bring down the fatalities in the UAE, it is important that the rules be standardised across the country.
A renewed focus on minibus driver training will also help. For instance, do these drivers know that the vehicle is inherently unstable at high speeds due to its high centre of gravity? Awareness training refreshers can boost their sense of responsibility on the roads.
In the interim up until 2023, these steps will go a long way in ensuring driver responsibility and passenger safety.