The immaturity of a 20-year-old coupled with fight or flight hormone adrenaline flowing thick in the blood can be a heady combination for a bus driver.
To take novices off the wheel, the Motor Vehicles Department is all set to suggest a higher experience benchmark for bus drivers. Presently, any 20-year-old with a licence to drive heavy vehicles is eligible to drive private buses. There are no specific guidelines on eligibility or experience qualifying individuals to be drivers of private buses.
Transport Commissioner Rishi Raj Singh told The Hindu: “We have drawn up a draft proposal recommending significant changes in fixing eligibility for private bus drivers”. It recommends making a certain period of experience in driving heavy vehicle mandatory to qualify as private bus drivers. It is yet to be decided whether five or ten years of experience should be made the benchmark since setting a higher experience level could lead to a shortage of eligible drivers. The proposal will be forwarded to the government for approval shortly.
Asked whether the Central Motor Vehicle Rule poses a hurdle in bringing about such guideline, Mr. Singh said the States were well within their powers to formulate guidelines for public safety. He cited how the apex court had allowed such guidelines in the case of educational institution buses where ten years of experience was made mandatory for drivers.
As the entire debate over the killing spree of private buses revolve around speed governor, a device that sets a cut-off speed, the inexperience and young age of a majority of drivers behind the wheels adding to fatal accidents are glossed over.
A senior MVD official said it had been proven clinically that young and immature drivers with scant experience are often unable to make correct judgement when faced with a precarious situation.
M.B. Satyan, State president of Kerala Private Bus Operators Federation, admitted that inexperienced drivers were contributing to fatal accidents. He said private buses were the training ground for fresh hands. “Once they gain experience, we lose them to other agencies like KSRTC, which can afford to set a benchmark for experience. Bus operators then have to do it all over again,” he said.
Mr. Satyan said while 27-28 years was the ideal minimum age for bus drivers, it would further agonise bus operators who are forced to suspend services for want of drivers. “Though drivers are paid on the basis of route, timing and collection, the accepted minimum daily wage for an 11-hour shift, which includes 15-25 minutes rest between services, is Rs. 700. In some cases, a driver gets Rs. 900 a day,” he said.