The Narok accident in which more than 40 people were killed has raised serious questions about how our buses are built. The fact that the vehicle’s roof peeled off points to failure in the design and the building of the bus’s body.
We sought to find out how the bodies of buses in the country are designed. In Kenya, there are several body builders but the top companies include Kenya Vehicle Manufactures of Thika and Labh Singh Harnam Singh Ltd, the largest bus and coach manufacturer in East and Central Africa.
We discovered that buses in Kenya are built on commercial vehicle chassis which usually have higher frame chassis than other commuter buses used in other parts of the world. This means that no dealer sells a chassis designed for a bus, hence compromising the passenger comfort, safety and vehicle stability.
In terms of body building, there are a number of mushrooming inexperienced body builders who ignore the safety standards of commuter buses by making cheap structures that even leak during rainy seasons to save on cost.
According to Kenya Vehicle Manufacturers, there are set standards in the Traffic Act and Kebs bus standards which seem to have been ignored to cut cost but have brought in significant suffering to hardworking Kenyans. Due to greed, some operators opt to have top carriers on a weak body which is usually overloaded with goods instead of using the bottom cargo boots designed for inter-city buses. This makes the bus to sway and swing on its high frame at the bends because of loss of control and stability.
According to one bus builder who declined to be named, a normal bus should be about 12 feet high. However, they normally extend the top carrier making the bus 13 to 14 feet high. Some bus operators like Easy Coach, Modern Coast and Mash Poa have realized the dangers of the top carriers and have done away with them.
Experts say a bus should always meet minimum standards like: 1) Roll over protection; 2) Front impact protection; and 3) side impact protection.
During a bus or coach rollover without the above minimum standards, the occupant will have a larger distance from the centre of rotation as compared to that of a car occupant. This is what makes a rollover accident extremely fatal and explains the huge number of accident fatalities in Kenya. The side windows get broken, the risk of passenger ejection and injury increases. The most common body regions injured in a rollover, when no ejection occurs, are the head, the neck and the shoulder.
Crash analysis indicate that injury in rollover crashes can be caused by the impact of the occupants on the side panel, on the luggage rack and also by the effects of occupant interaction.
All is not gloomy when it comes to body building though. There are some buses in Kenya which meet the safety thresholds. They include Foton Buses which come with all the safety features like the rollover cast, ABS brake system,three safety hatches on top of the bus and six safety hammers to break the glass during an emergency. The buses are on a passenger chassis and have undergone crash tests. They also meet the European regulation ‘ECE R66’.
The ‘ECE R66’ regulation is in force to prevent catastrophic consequences of rollover accidents thereby ensuring the safety of bus and coach passengers. The purpose of the rule is to ensure the superstructure of the vehicle has the sufficient strength in case of rollovers.
Foton buses for a 47-seater cost Sh6.5 million while the 57-seater goes for Sh8.6 million. This price could be the reason why some bus operators go for the locally assembled which are cheaper, with chassis going for between Sh3 million and Sh4 million.
Some bus fabricators have also wrongly advised their customers to expand their bus capacity by adding a full row of 10 extra passengers, from 41 to 51, to increase their profits.
A spot check by the Star revealed many buses in Nairobi are culprits. For example, some buses plying the Githurai route are not stable because the body is actually ‘hanging at the back’ compromising the safety of the bus.
News Source: theSTAR