No safety standards defined for any vehicles, fitness checks not done properly and safety check issues in transport buses: Audit Report

A Royal Audit Authority (RAA) report showed that Road Safety and Transport Authority (RSTA) neither has the proper testing equipment nor competent inspectors to assess vehicles with sophisticated features.

The Royal Bhutan Police (RBP), during normal or highway inspection, does not inspect vehicles, which might not be roadworthy based on rusted body structure, engine noise, and emission.

However, RSTA expressed that it will incur huge expenditure to procure and equip all of its regional and base offices with proper testing equipment.

The vehicle inspection is not carried out properly due to additional responsibilities of Motor Vehicle Inspectors (MVIs) apart from their primary responsibility, the report pointed out.

The RAA Report revealed that inadequacy in the current system of ensuring vehicle fitness indirectly indicates that a greater number of unsafe vehicles are allowed to ply posing risk to road users and properties, besides causing environmental hazard.

Meanwhile, as per the figure from RBP on the Motor Vehicle (MV) Accident, accident caused as a result of mechanical failure is on rise. From January 2015 to September 2020, there were 272 MV accidents reported due to mechanical failure.

The data analysis revealed that there are 28 buses used in various schools and institutes that exceeded the serviceable age provided in the regulation (15 years). Though it is easier to track the conversion of taxis when it reaches the end of serviceable age, it is challenging to track the conversion of passenger buses after the serviceable age.

However, for non-commercial vehicles (private and government vehicles), there is no limit of the serviceable age.

According to the report, the use of old vehicles will not only cause threat to the safety of passengers or road users, but is also a major environmental concern because of the carbon footprint.

When it comes to scheduled passenger buses, no passenger bus is allowed to operate on the route after the expiry of its operational life. However, the life of the other non-scheduled buses (school/institution buses) has been lifted in the revised regulation and operation shall be subjected to the six-monthly fitness inspection, report stated.

To ensure safety of the inter-dzongkhag passengers, RSTA has monitoring mechanisms, such as pre-departure inspection and luggage weigh-ins.

As per the data analysis of eRALIs from 2015 to 2020, 405 medium buses and 188 heavy buses were charged for carrying extra passengers, the report pointed out that this was a result of improper pre-departure inspection and non-enforcement of rules by the official concerned. This issue can compromise the safety of the public transport passengers.

RAA noted that there was no RSTA official to conduct the pre-inspection of the buses or oversee the comfort of the passengers in order to ensure safety of passengers.

The audit findings mention that the luggage charges are not enforced uniformly. Drivers, themselves, carry heavy luggage, which need to be rectified.

“The agreement between the bus operators and the RSTA states that all buses should have a fire extinguisher and first-aid kits”. Further, all buses should have a speed sensor installed in the bus for alerting the driver if he is speeding beyond the permitted speed limit,” states the report.

Although cases of overloaded trucks cannot be totally eliminated, it can be controlled through effective monitoring, legislation and education, the report stated.

Bhutan imports a large number of vehicles annually, wherein the data from the Department of Revenue and Custom (DRC) shows an import of 34,482 vehicles within the span of July 2015 to 2020.  The RAA noted that in terms of safer vehicles, there is no safety standards defined for any of the vehicles imported yet.

Except for one model of vehicle which was prohibited in the country (Tata Nano), the RSTA had not identified the type and make of vehicles including two-wheelers which are safe to ply on the Bhutanese roads.

As per the RAA Report May 2022, the minimum safety standards are not defined.

“Without safety standards for the vehicles instituted, there is possibility of new vehicles coming without necessary safety requirements. This increases the risk of motor vehicle crashes resulting in loss of lives, causing serious injuries, and impacting quality of life,” the report further stated.

Given the importance of inspection of vehicle fitness, vehicles are assessed only based on the type of vehicles and not the age of the vehicle. The validity of roadworthiness is a maximum one year, irrespective of vehicles being fairly new or more than 15 years of age. 

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