A high-level panel set up to probe the accidents involving two Volvo buses has recommended that the Swedish bus manufacturer discontinue the use of inflammable material, including seat covers, wood lining and floor carpets, in the interiors of its buses.
“Volvo buses use synthetic material to make the interior of their buses. While accidents will happen, we need to ensure that buses do not erupt into flames and burn down fast, as it had happened in case of both the accidents. They should, instead, furnish the interiors with fire-retardant material to ensure people get enough time to get out of a burning bus,” a government official, who did not want to be identified, said.
In case of both the accidents, the buses were engulfed in flames in less than 45 minutes after impact, killing 52 people - 45 people were burnt to death in Andhra Pradesh and 7 more died in another bus fire in Karnataka. The report by the committee, headed by National Automotive Testing R&D Infrastructure Project (Natrip) CEO Nitin Gokarn, has also said that buses should have more emergency exits at the back, in addition to the exits on the sides.
“The number of emergency exits in the second half of the bus requires to be increased. Also, the bus manufacturer needs to make provisions for manual exit windows, like the trains have. Had the emergency exits in both the case of fire opened easily, the deaths would have been minimal,” said the official.
The recommendations also call for equipment such as Tachograph — similar to black box in an aircraft — to be deployed in buses to monitor the speed of the bus and the driver’s record. Tachographs are widely used globally and the cost per device is estimated to be around Rs 50,000 per unit.
The panel has also raised the issue of faulty design of roads and the case of overspeeding by the drivers. “In both the cases, buses were being driven at a speed no less than 80 km/hour. We should improve our road design to ensure that accidents do not happen at these speeds,” said the official. Volvo Buses did not respond to the query on this report till the time of going to press. The Natrip report, however, has not been able to pin-point the exact reason behind the buses catching fire.