5 safety tips when riding tour buses in Taiwan

In wake of recent crash, experts provide advice on ways to stay safe when riding tour buses in Taiwan

Aftermath of Feb. 14 tour bus crash. (By Central News Agency)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- On Feb. 14, a tour bus flipped over as it was heading southbound on Freeway No. 5 at approximately 9 pm, killing 33 passengers, many of whom died on the spot, but an expert says that you can increase the odds of surviving such a crash by buckling your seat belt, as well as taking a few other simple steps, such as sitting in the middle.

On the way back from a one-day trip Monday evening, the tour bus flipped over a barrier on the right side of a curve on the exit ramp from National Freeway No.5 coming from Yilan County to National Freeway No.3 in Taipei's Nangang District.

The roof of the bus was ripped off and passengers flew out of the vehicle, reports said. Out of the 44 passengers, 11 were still being treated in hospital Tuesday. The crash amounted to the most serious road accident in Taiwan in 30 years.

Here are some safety tips to observe when riding tour buses in Taiwan:

1. Fasten your seat belt

Associate Professor Pai Chihwei (白志偉) from the Taipei Medical University Institute of Injury Prevention told CNA in this case, the bus was believed to be speeding and passengers were not wearing their seat belts, increasing the chance that they would be ejected from the vehicle during the crash resulting in major physical trauma. Pai said according to regulations, there must be seat belts in five locations on the bus: behind the driver's seat, the front door, the back door, next to the emergency exit, and the last row of aisle seats. 

Studies have shown that wearing a seat belt in a potentially fatal collision can reduce the mortality rate by 60 percent. In the event that the vehicle overturns, wearing a seat belt reduces the mortality rate by 80 percent. Seat belts halt the inertia the human body has when a vehicle in motion stops suddenly, thus preventing collision with objects and ejection from the vehicle. 

2. Hold a "protective posture"

If you have time, you should "bend your upper body downwards, brace your legs with your arms, and tuck your head to your chest," said Pai. 

Taiwan Medical Trauma Association Chairman Chien Li-chien (簡立建) said if you have time to react, cover your head with both hands and bend your upper body toward your knees to reduce the force of the impact. 

Where you sit on the bus and the circumstances of the crash can have a big effect on the injuries you sustain, according to Pai. If it is a collision on the highway, the likelihood of injuries in the front and rear of the bus are higher. However, according to car accident statistics from the past, sitting on the same side as the driver tends to be safer, said Pai. 

3. Sit in the middle 

A driver surnamed Hsu with over 20 years of experience driving a tour bus told CNA in a bus crash, the likelihood of head injury is greatest, especially if you are sitting near the front where you may be hit by flying glass from the windshield, and not fastening the seat belt will compound the risk of injury for those in the front rows. 

Bus crashed into an overpass
Bus crashes into overpass on Feb. 4 (CNA photo)

In addition to the front rows, those sitting in the far rear are also more at risk of injury in the event of a collision from behind. Also, the engine is at the rear, so if there is a fire, passengers in the back of the bus will be the most exposed. 

Two buses crashed into each other
Two buses crash into each other in Miaoli in 2013 (CNA photo)

Compared to the front and back rows, the middle section of the bus is relatively safe, not only because it is further away from flying glass from a head on collision and the impact and flames from a rear collision, the emergency exit door is closer, especially in newer vehicles. 

Hsu emphasized that regardless of the seating position, buckling up is paramount, as is watching the safety video shown by the bus company pointing out the locations of the emergency exits, hammers for breaking windows, and fire extinguishers. 

4. Don't ride buses that are over 10 years old

The bus in which 33 passengers perished on Feb. 14 was 19 years old, which a tour operator described to CNA as "ancient." Ideally, buses should be replaced every 10 years, otherwise problems will start to occur, said the tour operator. 

"Buses are just like cars, the older they are, the more problems they will have, for that reason the majority of large tour bus companies replace their vehicles every 10 years," said the tour company owner 

The problem is that the average cost of a new tour bus is NT$8 million (US$260,000), so small- and medium-sized tour companies try to make the vehicles last as long as possible, said the tour operator. Companies will use cheap prices to attract passengers who are looking for a good deal, but they will be sacrificing safety in the process, the manager lamented.

It is recommended that prior to participating in a tour that would-be passengers first inquire about the age of the bus. Once on board, it is often possible to check the age of the bus on the side panel, along with other information such as the maximum number of passengers it is designed to carry. 

5. Has the driver been overworked?

Though some blamed the cheap price for causing the tour company to cut corners, Consumers' Foundation, Chinese Taipei Chairman Yu Kai-hsiung (游開雄) said that the key factor was "whether the amount of time the driver was on duty led to fatigue that clouded his judgement."The departure time of such one-day trips is very early, there are many winding mountain roads that challenge the driver, and fatigue naturally sets in towards the end of the day.

Consumers should be aware that even under the best conditions, it is difficult to prevent drivers from being fatigued by the end of such grueling one-day tours.