BANGKOK – Thailand’s Transport Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith said yesterday that exhaustion might have been a major factor in the accident, the van driver reportedly had only one hour of rest after returning from a trip to Bangkok.
“From the preliminary examination of the case, we found that the van had just passed inspection last September and there was no problem with the engine and gas tanks,” Arkhom said.
“So the accident might have been caused by the driver’s fatigue or speeding, but this has to be confirmed by the officers again.”
Tighter regulations will be issued, he said.
The number of passenger vans crossing provincial borders will be reduced by 2019 and replaced with buses, he said.
Drivers will have to comply with a rule to rest one hour after every four hours on the road and attend a traffic course every six months to ensure that they remember traffic rules and exercise good driving etiquette.
“In other countries, vans are used to carry items, not people, so if our country uses vans to transport passengers, we must ensure that it is safe to do so,” Arkhom said.
“The Transport Ministry is now campaigning to get the van operators to install GPS in their vehicles, so we can track and regulate the drivers.”
Pol Lt-General Wittaya Prayong-pan, assistant National Police chief, said police were working to investigate the accident, but the preliminary indication was that it was caused by the exhaustion of the driver.
“From the inspection at the scene, there was no sign that the driver tried to stop the van and it was not in a dangerous section, so we think the driver dozed off, causing the van to lose direction and hit the pickup truck,” he said.
“It’s clear the driver was reckless and we’re going test his alcohol blood level.” Siwakorn Buapong chief of the Provincial Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Office in Chon Buri, said the van driver was 64 years old and had only a one-hour break after returning from Bangkok to Chantaburi, so the lack of proper rest and his age could have caused the accident.
Five Round Trips in 31 Hours
“To prevent such a tragic accident, we must ensure that the transport vehicle driver has a proper rest before driving, the vans must be installed with safety equipment and the vans should not run on NGV [natural gas for vehicles],” he said.
The van driver started working at 4am on Sunday and drove five roundtrips between Chantaburi and Bangkok within a 31-hour period during the holiday season.
The van had also been equipped with three NGV tanks, which exploded after the collision.
Pol Maj-General Pornchai Suteerakune, director of the Forensic Medicine Institute at Police General Hospital, said eight of the victims were identified as men, 13 as women, one as a boy and one as a girl.
The gender of the other two corpses was still unknown.
Most of the bodies were covered with serious burns, so relatives were urged to provide details about their family members and DNA samples.
Officials said it would take one day to match the DNA to identify the victims. A forensics team was working to complete its work so the victims’ remains could be released to their families, Pornchai said.
The Justice Ministry will provide legal assistance to relatives to get proper compensation from insurance companies as well as financial support in case relatives incur legal expenses in court and to cover the charge for identification tests.
Police have not filed charges in connection with the accident, saying that more evidence was needed.
Arkhom said the number of passenger vehicles increased this New Year, including more people using public transport and driving their own cars. The increase in the number of vehicles was associated with rises in accidents, injuries and deaths compared to last year. “The major cause of accidents is still drunk driving, while speeding and motorcycles are the second and third reasons.”
This year the number of accidents has risen to 3,157 – compared to 2,753 last year.
By Suchat Sritama | The Nation