APSN Banner

Indonesia's woeful road safety under spotlight after fatal bus crash exposes negligence

South China Morning Post - May 16, 2024

Johannes Nugroho – A tragic bus crash in Indonesia that killed 11 people including several students has put the spotlight on the country's chronic road safety problems and intensified calls for stringent regulatory oversight and enforcement.

The accident, which also injured 32 people, occurred on Saturday when a bus carrying students on an excursion in the town of Ciater, West Java – 26km southwest of Jakarta – crashed into a sport utility vehicle and three motorcycles.

"I was so shocked to see it on the news. It could have been my daughter on the bus," said Sri Wahyuni, 36, a resident of Depok.

"I don't know anyone on the bus but I felt shaken nonetheless," she said, adding that it made her worry about her teenage daughter's next school trip.

The students on the bus attended the Lingga Kencana high school in Depok.

The bus, operated by private company Trans Putera Fajar (TPF), reportedly lost control as it was making a turn on a downhill slope and swerved out of its lane and into the other vehicles. The bus was carrying 75 people, comprising students and staff, 10 of whom died instantly in the accident. One motorcyclist was among the fatalities.

The bus driver, Sadira, survived but was immediately taken into custody and declared a suspect in the ongoing police investigation into the crash.

Sadira admitted the vehicle had "experienced engine difficulties" during the trip and that he "tried to fix it on his own", police said.

West Java Police Director of Traffic Control Wibowo said Sadira would be charged with "causing bodily harm resulting in death or injury to others while using the road", an offence punishable with a maximum jail term of 12 years.

Eko Suyatno, a bus driver based in Surabaya, said he agreed that Sadira was guilty of negligence but felt his fellow driver was "unfairly scapegoated".

"Why should the driver shoulder all the blame? Why haven't the police arrested the boss of the bus company? It was his shoddy bus which largely caused the crash."

The crash was the latest addition to a long list of tragic bus accidents in Indonesia involving students.

In January, a bus carrying high-school students in Sidoarjo, East Java, overturned while it tried to avoid a collision, killing two passengers in the process. In 2007, a bus carrying students from an Islamic school in Depok crashed in Ciloto, West Java, leaving 16 dead.

Indonesia's transport ministry told the media that the transport service licence of the bus involved in the latest accident had expired in December. TPF was not registered with the authorities and did not possess a licence to operate as a transport company.

The ministry also pointed to "defective brakes" as the cause of the accident, saying police forensics indicated that no brakes were applied during the crash.

"We advise bus companies to comply with existing rules by having their vehicles tested every six months as the law stipulates," Hendro Sugiatno, the director general of land transport at the ministry, said in a press statement.

According to data from the non-government Indonesian Transport Society (MTI), there were 116,000 recorded traffic accidents in Indonesia in 2023, a 6.8 per cent increase from the previous year.

MTI vice-chairman Djoko Setiwarno said his organisation's investigation into the accident last weekend found that the TPF bus was already 18 years old and not "roadworthy", and it had undergone "reconstruction" to make it look new.

"Our law states public buses over 15 years of service must be decommissioned. Apparently, the bus owner or its latest buyer circumvented the rules by having it revamped while it still ran on an old engine," Djoko told This Week in Asia.

He blamed "bureaucratic negligence" for letting the bus operate beyond 15 years.

"Government agencies responsible for transport must step up their vigilance and standards in upholding the existing regulations, which, if implemented stringently, should be sufficient in ensuring public safety in transport."

Djoko also stressed the importance of commercial bus operators applying "high safety standards" in managing their drivers and buses.

Kurnia Lesani Adnan, chairman of Indonesia's National Organisation for Transport Companies (Organda), confirmed Djoko's claim that the TPF bus had undergone "cosmetic" surgery to make it look like a new bus.

"By cross-checking data on the bus' papers and its actual remains, we found its engine to be of 2016 make. Someone falsified its data when re-registering the vehicle so that it could pass the test."

Kurnia said the government must be firm in stamping out "illegal operators", adding that his organisation had repeatedly lobbied different agencies to this end, to no avail.

"Eighty per cent of commercial bus accidents have always involved illegally operated buses. They give the rest of us who try to stick by the rules a bad name by association. In fact, they aren't our members."

The transport ministry did not respond to a query from This Week In Asia on the matter.

Inanta Indra Pradana, an urban public transport advocate with NGO Ruang Ramah Living, said the government's role as a regulator in the transport industry was found "wanting" in light of the accident.

"There are so many anomalies in the accident that one wonders if it could've been prevented, had government agencies done their job diligently."

Citing the accident, the head of Jakarta's Department of Education, Purwosusilo, has banned schools under his jurisdiction from organising field trips for students.

"It will save parents the extra cost and avert any unwanted incidents like the Ciater accident," he said at a press conference on Tuesday.

Depok parent Sri Wahyuni said she was appalled by the announcement. "Instead of sorting out the real problems in enforcing transport regulations, they opted to punish the students by confining them to the school ground."

Source: https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/people/article/3262828/indonesias-woeful-road-safety-under-spotlight-after-fatal-bus-crash-exposes-negligenc