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2014年3月27日 (木)

関越道バス事故 命預かる責任を重んじた判決

The Yomiuri Shimbun March 27, 2014
Court decision emphasizes bus drivers’responsibility to protect passengers
関越道バス事故 命預かる責任を重んじた判決(3月26日付・読売社説)

Serious blame must fall on the bus driver found responsible for causing a tragic accident in 2012 by driving despite a lack of sleep and losing control of his bus. The enormous responsibility of being entrusted as a bus driver with passengers’ lives should be recognized.

The court ruling on the driver’s negligence is a warning to bus companies, whose most important duty is to transport passengers safely. Seven people died and 38 were injured in the April 2012 accident involving the tour bus on the Kanetsu Expressway in Gunma Prefecture. The 45-year-old driver faced several charges, including negligent driving resulting in injury or death.
On Tuesday, the Maebashi District Court sentenced the driver to nine years and six months in prison, without a suspended sentence. It also ordered him to pay a fine of ¥2 million.

The decision to give the defendant a harsh punishment, nearly equal to the penalty sought by prosecutors, appears to indicate that the court took into account the severity of the driver’s negligence.

It is known that the driver complied with a request from his bus company to work, despite being sleep-deprived due to his continuously busy work schedule. During the rest period given to him, he made numerous calls from a cell phone. The accused then went back to work without sufficient rest before the fatal accident.

The district court had every reason to condemn the driver’s behavior as “extremely thoughtless.”

The driver was diagnosed through a pretrial analysis as having a moderate case of sleep apnea syndrome (SAS), a sleep disorder characterized by repeated pauses in breathing during sleep.
SAS sufferers can be seized by strong drowsiness during the day while also feeling fatigue. According to an estimate, there are more than 2 million sufferers of the disease nationwide.

During the trial, the driver’s defense counsel cited his SAS while insisting he be acquitted on some counts. “[The man] fell asleep without prior indication of drowsiness. [The accused] is not to blame,” the defense team told the court.

Sleep disorder to blame?

However, the court ruled that the driver had already been sleepy before the accident. Its ruling also stated that it was fully possible for him to take appropriate actions even if he had begun to show SAS symptoms, such as resting at a parking area along the expressway.

Why did the driver remain behind the wheel? There is no imagining the depth of regret felt by the families of the victims who died.

There have been other cases involving possible sufferers of SAS, including a fatal accident caused by a bus driver on the Hokuriku Expressway in Toyama Prefecture early this month. The accident killed two people and injured 26 others. The driver had been diagnosed as requiring observation for his potential SAS symptoms.

The Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry has asked transportation companies to check drivers and other personnel for SAS and, if necessary, get them medical treatment at an early date. However, there is no compulsory rule requiring such corporations to check their employees for SAS.

Given that SAS can lead to accidents, we believe the ministry should consider requiring transportation companies to ensure that their employees undergo SAS checkups.

The 2012 accident has triggered some improvements in the system for operating long-distance expressway buses. For instance, the transport ministry has lowered the upper limit on the length of routes operated by expressway buses at night from 670 kilometers to 400 kilometers as a general rule. The ministry has also set a new rule limiting the time bus drivers can sit behind the wheel to no more than 10 hours per day.

Bus companies must adhere to the new rules, and they must keep watch on the health condition of their drivers.

If bus drivers suspect any symptoms of bad health, they should immediately tell their companies and abstain from duty. Doing so is the obligation of all professional drivers.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 26, 2014)
(2014年3月26日01時47分  読売新聞)


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