Why microbuses, or minibuses are rolling coffins
Dubai: Minibuses — or vans — are an affordable mode of transport. But they are also deadly. When loaded with passengers, these vans turn into virtual rolling coffins.
Traffic safety advocates, led by Maj Gen Al Zafein, Head of the Federal Traffic Council and Assistant to the Dubai Police Chief for Operations Affairs, have sought the ban on minibuses at least since 2013.
Ban for school transport in 2021
On May 10, 2019. the Abu Dhabi-based Federal Traffic Council of the UAE has announced plans to phase out minibuses.
As such, schools will not be allowed to use minibuses to transport students by September 2021.
Complete ban by 2023
A complete ban on all passenger minibuses will start from January 2023. The decision came during a council meeting chaired by Maj Gen Al Zafein, Deputy Commander General of Dubai Police for Operations Affairs and Head of the Federal Traffic Council.
The meeting highlighted that mortality rates on UAE roads had dropped by 32 per cent over the last year.
The call is based on hard facts, and follows the lead of countries that have also banned minibuses/vans for passenger transport.
Since the 1970s, a consumer campaign led by Ralph Nader launched a relentless drive for the complete ban of the VW minivan — citing accident data and expert analyses about what the campaign as the "fundamentally unsafe" nature of this vehicle for passenger transport.
Other countries, including Thailand, banned the use of vans for passenger transport as recently as 2017.
Safety of minibuses/vans: What authorities say
- The minibus/van can easily overturn on a curve when speeding
- The design of the seats puts passengers too close for comfort
- There are no emergency exits, unlike in regular buses
- Around 15 to 20 people die every year in accidents involving these vehicles in Dubai (2013 data from traffic police)
- This vehicle is unstable and it could deceive the driver
- A van typically holds around 14 passengers seated very close to each other
- The van shouldn’t be used to transport passengers as its structure is not strong enough to hold this number of passengers
- Since minibuses/vans usually run on petrol, they go faster
- Greater momentum makes them more wobbly on the road — and more prone to accident
- The maximum number of passengers a minibus can carry was reduced to nine from 16, but this rule has been largely ignored
Why microbuses, or minibuses, are unsafe
Minibuses, normally designed to carry eight to 10 people, are considered especially unsafe when overcrowded, according to Dubai traffic authorities.
The numbers tell a long tail of horror stories. In 2018, seven people died in 24 accidents involving minibuses in Dubai.
The numbers prove their safety (or lack of it) in the UAE.
Up to 20 people die every year in accidents involving such vehicles, according to Maj Gen Al Zafein.
Up to 20Average number of people who die each year in Dubai involving minibus accidents, say Dubai Traffic authorities
“Minibuses in general should be banned. The nine and 14-seat minibuses are very unsafe," he said back in 2013.
In 2012, Dubai traffic police recorded 87 accidents involving minibuses.
It resulted in the death of seven people and caused injuries to 179 people, 15 of whom sustained serious injuries — the accident rate increased with the number of passengers travelling in minibuses.
In the first five months of 2013, 30 accidents out of 637 were caused by minibuses — 4.71 per cent of the total number of accidents. Minibus accidents caused the deaths of two people and injured 63 people, three of whom sustained serious injuries.
“The minibus doesn’t have basic safety features present in other vehicles," said Maj Gen Al Zafein. "It holds around 14 passengers seated very close to each other and shouldn’t be used to transport passengers as its structure is not strong enough to hold this number of passengers. This vehicle is unstable and it could deceive the driver.”
"The maximum number of passengers a minibus can carry was reduced to nine from 16, but this rule has been largely ignored," he added.
“Minibuses in general should be banned. The nine and 14-seat minibuses are very unsafe."
In 2017, Thailand’s Foundation for Consumers' Safe Public Transport Travel Project reported that passenger vans were involved in 236 road accidents in resulting in 113 fatalities and 906 injuries.
In 2016, 105 people died and 1,102 others were injured in similar accidents.
Following the fatal crashes, passenger vans had been banned in the south-east Asian country for safety reasons. The government required operators to replace the microvans with larger, better-built microbuses that would improve passenger safety.
1970s campaign against microbuses/vans
In the US, the VW microbus or van has been dubbed as “so unsafe that it should be removed from the roads entirely.”
In September 1971, statements made headlines in the US with a demand to immediately stop the production of the VW microbus, and that Volkswagen should buy back all existing buses.
The demand followed a 200-page report prepared by consumer rights campaigner Ralph Nader’s Centre for Auto Safety in Washington DC.
It produced tables, statistics, engineering analyses and testimonies from various experts that purport to prove that the VW vehicles, especially the van, to be exceptionally unsafe. It was considered the most virulent, all-encompassing public indictment of an automobile manufacturer ever to be made.