News Features

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,” he noted.
DIG Laffir identified the fierce competition among bus drivers as one of the main reasons for traffic violations in the country.
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,” he noted.
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 along highways.
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.
Priority Give-Way
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 completely.
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 owners.
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 display.”
He reiterated however that bus owners do not condone this display.
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 charged.
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 the road.
“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 even try.”
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.”