The accident involving a MTC bus on Tuesday which resulted in the death of a pedestrian and an autorickshaw driver has once again highlighted the lack of attention paid to medical fitness of bus drivers and safety aspects.

The accident, which increased MTC's fatality count in 2011 to 55, could have been prevented if there had been a culture of sensitivity towards health problems faced by drivers such as G.Narayanan, who lost consciousness behind the wheel.

Traffic policemen at the accident scene said this was not the first instance of a government bus involved in an accident whose driver was not in the best of health. On July 21, a State government bus en route to Tirupati knocked down a man and his wife travelling on a motorcycle at Poonamallee. The couple died on the spot. The bus driver's licence had expired in March and the renewed licence was not in his possession. Moreover, the 45-year old driver, who was taken for a check-up at the Government Regional Institute of Ophthalmology and Hospital, Egmore, was declared “ophthalmologically unfit to drive vehicles”.

When concern is raised about the poor maintenance of public transport buses, senior MTC officials say drivers are responsible for about 60 to 70 per cent of accidents.

However, enough efforts are not being made to ensure that the manpower deployed is in the best possible shape, says P.Rajendran, general secretary of the Anna Thozhir Sangam. “Driving buses through such heavily congested roads for more than 10 hours a day is a high-stress job. Some have been doing it for 35 years. But there is no regular medical check-up. Only an eye test is done once in five years. Many have hypertension but their blood pressure levels are never monitored.”

While only those drivers who are medically fit are allowed to drive, Mr.Rajendran acknowledges that some ask doctors to “adjust” the certificate just to be able to get back to work. “They cannot afford to be without pay for long. Many do not tell even if they know they are sick because they will be taken off work and someone from the 1,000-odd reserve crew would be asked to ply that bus,” he adds.

But such reasons do not justify cases of rash driving and rampant violation of traffic rules, which do happen. Though drivers do try and attribute it to the need to complete eight trips within a shift despite rising traffic congestion, experts say that there must be a zero tolerance approach to accidents and no justification is acceptable.

MTC Managing Director S.Bhoopathy says that there is enough room for a sick employee to divert a bus towards the nearest terminus and take the day off. “We do get about five to six such ‘sick calls' every day. There are already systems in place to handle such cases.”

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