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Long driving hours per day causing bus drivers to speed

Posted March. 22, 2013 06:25,   


Park Yong-sang, 47, a bus driver with 12 years of experience, was again seen at the encamped demonstration site in front of the Kyeongjin Express Bus Company in Suwon on Thursday in the 129th day of the protest.

Bus drivers say the interval between buses should be extended because the existing interval, which they say is too short even to use the bathroom, has caused bus drivers to break traffic law such as speeding and running traffic signals.

When driving a No. 7770 bus that shuttles between Seoul’s Sadang subway station and Suwon rail station in Gyeonggi Province, Park made nine round-trips a day. Though one round-trip takes almost 180 minutes in commuting time, the duration time for one round trip as set by the company is 100 minutes. If a driver failed to make nine trips per day, he or she will see a pay cut. As a result, Park had to sit behind the wheel an average of 17 hours a day.

A source from the bus company said, “The 100-minute interval is applied in the early morning hours. We use this interval flexibly according to the situation such as rush hour and road conditions. Violating traffic law is not a matter of the interval time but because of drivers prefer to take a longer rest.”

Bus drivers in Korea are notorious for violating traffic law, and the number of traffic accidents involving buses has increased every year from 7,272 in 2007 to 8,595 last year. The number of casualties was 15,100, including 216 fatalities in last year alone. According to the National Police Agency, speeding accounted for 58 percent of the 120,000 reported violations of traffic law by buses in 2011.

Traffic experts agree that the biggest cause of traffic violation by bus drivers is too much time behind the wheel. According to a study by the Korea Transportation Safety Authority conducted last year on the work of bus drivers, they drove an average of 59 hours per week, higher than taxi drivers (54) or truckers (45). Among every 10 drivers, 9.6 drove more than 10 hours a day on average, and those driving more than 13 hours accounted for 18 percent.

The European Union, Japan and the U.K. have adopted limits on commercial driving time to prevent traffic violations and raise safety. The U.S. has a daily driving limit of 10 hours and the EU and Japan within nine hours. These are in stark contrast to the situation in Korea, where no limit exists on how many hours a bus driver can work. An intra-city bus driver in Korea said, “One round trip takes between two to three hours, and I shuttle five to six times a day. As a result, I often drive up to 18 hours a day. I can’t resist speeding since I just want to finish work early.”

Also problematic is the device that limits the top speed of a bus is set 110 kilometers (68.6 miles) per hour, more than 80 kilometers (49 miles), the limit on motorways. The device apparently cannot prohibit bus drivers from speeding. Dr. Jeong Gwan-mok from the Korea Transportation Safety Authority said, “Bus speed needs to be regulated mechanically because bus accidents can claim scores of lives at a time. It’s urgent to lower the limit of the speed limit equipment to 80 kilometers per hour.” The Seoul Metropolitan Government said it will replace the speed limit device installed on buses made in 2007 and onward with newer models with a lower speed limit of 80 kilometers per hour. Gyeonggi Province and Incheon, however, have no plan on the gadget.

Dr. Lee Hwan-seung from the transport authority said, “Government subsidies to bus companies, including the transfer discount compensation and deficit coverage, have helped reduce severe competition among bus companies. But this forces drivers to work so many hours a day and causes traffic violations. A system is urgently needed to limit driving hours (of a bus driver).”