Monsters on the road
Private buses connote only one meaning in Sri Lanka: They speed.
Regardless of hapless passengers, pedestrians and fellow
motorists, these buses speed down busy highways, even during
rush hour. Some of these reckless monsters sport a peculiar sign
in the middle of the front of the bus: A red triangle.
Placed just below the driver’s seat this aggressive sign conveys
that a monster is approaching. Coupled with the shrieking horn,
the sign gives out a signal of warning to anyone who dares to
cross the path of the bus to quickly scuttle to the roadside,
miles ahead. What is this sign and what purpose does it serve?
Yet, above all else, do private bus owners or drivers have the
authority to display such a sign to warn off the public and
speed away at their whim and fancy?
By Vindya Amaranayake
Traffic violations are not uncommon occurrences anywhere in the
world. Yet, in Sri Lanka, private buses not only violate traffic
laws but tend to hijack traffic signs meant for them and put on
display for notice of the public
The Priority Give-Way sign, or the bright red triangle,
displayed on the front of the buses for notice of the public
gives out a conspicuously menacing message: give me priority and
move out of my way.
Should the public and other motorists dutifully move out of the
way of these speeding long distance travelling fiends, or should
we take a step back and examine what right these owners and
drivers have to display such a sign?
“Just because these buses display a sign does not mean that they
are getting special privileges,” Traffic DIG Y.G.R.M. Laffir
said, but denied knowledge of, or having seen the display of
this particular sign at the front of the buses.
The DIG said nobody can violate traffic regulations and escape
scot-free, with or without peculiar signs. “For example, if you
take the Colombo-Kandy Highway, there are so many police
stations along the way. If there are traffic violations, the
traffic police operating on those roads are capable of detaining
the culprits,” he added.
However, he also said, one of the main reasons why the long
distance buses drive at high speed is to compensate for the long
hours they get stuck in traffic congestions between Colombo and
Nittambuwa. “They speed along the rest of the way to beat time,”
DIG Laffir identified the fierce competition among bus drivers
as one of the main reasons for traffic violations in the
He also said that the general lack of discipline among all
drivers – private and CTB buses and other motorists is the main
reason for traffic violations.
“People have lost humanity. There is fierce competition among
drivers and there is absolutely no discipline when it comes to
driving. They only care for money. Sometimes speeding buses
don’t even stop for old people. For them, it is just a matter of
loading the maximum number of passengers to make more profit,”
Surprisingly, the display of this rather striking roadside sign
at the front of long distance private buses has sadly escaped
the notice of the DIG, as well as many traffic policemen on duty
Interestingly, Transport Minister Dallas Allahapperuma too
pledged ignorance of this rather prominent sign displayed on
buses. “We have instructed school vans to display a white
triangle to indicate that they are transporting school children,
but I cannot say I have noticed a red triangle on private
buses,” he said.
He added that neither the Transport Commission nor the Motor
Traffic Act specify the regulations on various display signs on
buses or any other vehicles.
However, when the issue was pointed out, the Minister expressed
concern and the need to investigate the matter further.
Displayed on the roadside, the red triangle is a ‘give way’
priority symbol. Usually surrounded by a white margin and
middle, this particular signal, especially in the UK and
Commonwealth Countries indicate that a motorist must immediately
slow down, or stop, if necessary.
The Priority Give Way sign is most often used at points where
byroads merge into a main road. A driver who has stopped at a
Give Way sign is said to have yielded the right-of-way to the
flowing traffic on a main road.
Most importantly, it indicates that motorists should give
priority to the traffic flow on the main road. This is different
from the STOP sign where the motorist is expected to halt
Bus owners in denial
Meanwhile, Private Bus Owners’ Association President Gemunu
Wijerathne said that he is not aware of the reason for the
display of this sign. “I have also seen this sign, but have no
idea what the purpose is behind the display,” he said.
He assured that it is the bus drivers who display this sign and
this action does not have the approval or the blessing of bus
When queried whether the purpose behind the display of this sign
is to indicate to the pedestrians and motorists to quickly move
away from the path of the speeding bus, Wijerathne agreed
saying, “I also think that must be the reason behind the
He reiterated however that bus owners do not condone this
Whatever the people in authority say, it is the public that has
to suffer the consequences of reckless private bus drivers.
According to Shamila Wickremasinghe, the most pertinent issue is
the competition among bus drivers and that compels them to sport
signs demanding priority.
She added that given how the private buses are driven,
pedestrians and motorists are equally apprehensive when
travelling on highways. “Well, we are scared about our own life.
We have to be really careful while walking on the road because,
they are so careless,” she said.
She noted that present traffic regulations are not sufficient to
discipline reckless drivers. “On the other hand, even if
necessary regulations are in place, the bus drivers don’t
usually adhere to them. They are driven by their own rules,” she
Suranjith Wijesinghe is a student who travels to school by bus
everyday and he believes that private bus drivers do not adhere
to any traffic rule. Interestingly though, he said, “It is a big
nuisance for the other motorists to drive among these speeding
buses, but the passengers in the bus are quite happy because we
all lead busy lives and we all need to get to our work on time.”
M.K. Baskaran, a Manager at a store, also reiterated the view
that private bus drivers are governed by their own set of
regulations and believe that they can impose whatever sign they
wish on the public just to earn money.
He opined that the drivers have the courage to impose such
alarming signs on the public because they are confident they can
easily get away with any violation of traffic laws. “I think
present regulations are not sufficient to discipline these
reckless drivers,” he added.
Sarath Jayasinghe rides a motorbicycle to work everyday: “I
think only about 20% of them drive carefully and the rest are
reckless.” He expressed concern of how a large sized speeding
bus sporting the red triangle can freeze the blood of anyone on
“It is very dangerous to drive among them; the lives of the
people travelling on the roads are at risk,” he said and added,
“The present regulations are sufficient, but the problem is how
to implement them.”
He believes that most traffic policemen on the road try their
best in every way, but like in every other context, one or two
bad eggs just spoil the whole system.
Ravi Attanayake thinks that private buses are an utter nuisance
to the motorists: “They do not obey the rules at all; they don’t
On the presence of the red triangle, he said that since the bus
drivers are given free reign to do whatever they want, he is not
surprised that they will display any sign they please. He added,
“It is very dangerous to go out on the road because you are not
sure whether you will be able to come back home alive.”