crime

Transport ministry probe finds evidence of negligence by bus operator

26 Comments

The Ministry of Transport on Thursday said its special probe into the operator of a bus that crashed in Gunma Prefecture last Sunday morning, killing seven passengers, has revealed multiple breaches of laws and regulations.

The investigation followed comments by driver Kazan Kono, 43, indicating that he had dozed off at the wheel while taking a bus full of tourists from Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, to Tokyo Disneyland at 4:40 a.m. on the Kanetsu Expressway in Fujioka, Gunma Prefecture.

Kono was arrested on Tuesday and sent to prosecutors on Thursday.

The ministry report says the bus operator Rikuentai, which is based in Inzai, Chiba Prefecture, has a history of poor management at the company, TBS reported Thursday.

The investigation was intended to establish whether the company's management was enforcing standard safety protocols such as assigning relief drivers and ensuring that drivers did not exceed regulation driving times and distances. The ministry said that Rikuentai failed to keep driver's manuals, which contain route and safety information, and neglected to carry out driver health confirmations before shifts began.

Ministry officials said the investigation, which will include searches of the company president's offices and home, will continue in an attempt to ascertain whether the company's management caused the driver to be overworked, TBS reported.

Under ministry safety rules, bus drivers must spend no more than nine hours per day at the wheel on average over a two-day period. Management is also obliged to ensure that they do not exceed four hours of continuous driving.

However, Rikuentai said that a relief driver is only necessary if the journey is over 670 kilometers. The stated distance of the trip to Tokyo Disneyland was 540 kilometers.

A panel will be established this month to update guidelines that apply to tour bus operators, including those pertaining to duration and distance of drivers' shifts, the ministry said. Most bus drivers say that even 540 kilometers is too far to go without a relief driver, TBS reported.

Meanwhile, the Japan Tourism Agency, part of the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry, plans to conduct on-the-spot inspections of about 50 travel companies and about 200 chartered bus operators nationwide to check for other regulation breaches.

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26 Comments
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I'm sure every bus company does the same thing, every worker in Japan is overworked.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Wow! A Japanese company with shocking business ethics? This is not news! It is cultural!

2 ( +4 / -2 )

In other words, "Transport Ministry Finds What Everyone Else Already Knows". I don't know how strictly they can punish the company for lack of manuals, though. Hopefully they DO find proof of overworking the staff -- then they can shut the company down and send the execs to jail (will never happen. The president will just apologize and resign to an amakudari position).

"...bus drivers must spend no more than nine hours per day at the wheel on average..."

Having 'no more than' and 'on average' in the same sentence/rule seems a little contradictory. I mean, if you say 'on average' it could mean one day the guy spends 18 hours behind the wheel and the next day none.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Smith:

As they are sometimes driving overnight, it is also a question, when the daily work starts and when it finishes.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

electric2004: Good point! I'm sure there are companies that use that 'loophole' to weasel their way into saving a few bucks.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Meanwhile, the Japan Tourism Agency, part of the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry, plans to conduct on-the-spot inspections of about 50 travel companies and about 200 chartered bus operators nationwide to check for other regulation breaches.

meanwhile they should suspend tourism campaigns.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Do Japanese buses have tachographs fitted?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I do not understand why the law even gives kilometer limits for drivers. What counts is the continuous driving time; that should be strictly limited and enforced. A figure like "670 km" is meaningless, because depending on driving conditions, it might take less than 5 hours, or forever.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

gov needs to stop deflation spiral. because of too much price competing, japanese industrial quality has getting worse.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

Question..... if the investigation does show that the company over worked this guy then will he be let off the hook? I understand that what happened to all those people is BAD but will the company be held liable to the deaths of those lost too or just the driver???

0 ( +0 / -0 )

this is a surprise to anyone?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

A can of worms..this company is done

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@WilliB

I do not understand why the law even gives kilometer limits for drivers. What counts is the continuous driving time; that should be strictly limited and enforced. A figure like "670 km" is meaningless, because depending on driving conditions, it might take less than 5 hours, or forever.

I think you have answered your own question. Whilst you're right, continuous driving time may be the key factor, it's rather difficult to arrange to have relief drivers on a per hour basis. You can't just stick a driver on the bus once traffic difficulties are discovered so at some point you have to estimate driving time based on distance. (this, of course, is not to say that the distances have been correctly set or that this company did or didn't follow the law)

0 ( +0 / -0 )

As far as I know most of European countries impose sealed tachographs for any professional drivers (truck, bus, taxi, ...). This system records speed and driving time, which can be checked any time by police and must be kept by the company. Pretty simple, cheap and efficient to ensure basic safety standard.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The ministry said that Rikuentai failed to keep driver’s manuals, which contain route and safety information, and neglected to carry out driver health confirmations before shifts began.

Is that seriously all they got? If the company was within the law as far as distance and time limits per drivers, then I hope the government gets investigated for negligence too.

However, Rikuentai said that a relief driver is only necessary if the journey is over 670 kilometers. The stated distance of the trip to Tokyo Disneyland was 540 kilometers.

The real point is, how far and how long did the driver actually drive before dozing off. Never mind the maximum legal limit or the estimated planned trip. Those things are not strictly relevant. How far did he actually drive? How many hours was he actually at the wheel? Seem to me he only made it about half way, and that indicates some other more serious problems.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The article actually states that drivers are not to exceed four hours of continual driving under Japanese law.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Don

These companies should be checked routinely not after people get killed

1 ( +1 / -0 )

We should keep in mind that the same logic bureaucrats use to govern nuclear power plants in this country is applied to any and every other industry. To wit, serious accidents are impossible until they happen and then we deny responsibility. Deregulation has meant that anybody who can rent an old bus can get into the cross country transportation business. If you think this is bad, what do you think will happen with these gekiyasu airlines? How well do you think their pilots sleep on their gekiyasu per diem allowances?

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Every industry has rules that are in many cases unworkable and thus its no surprise that violations were found. Unions use "work to rules" as a form of industrial action to bring production to a near stop. The question is which of these violated rules are significant as opposed to doing a witch hunt just to place blame.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The ministry report says the bus operator Rikuentai, which is based in Inzai, Chiba Prefecture, has a history of poor management at the company, TBS reported Thursday

What does it mean? The authorities had a record of it and already knew it and didn't do anything, or it only came to light after the accident and the following police raid of the bus operator?"

0 ( +1 / -1 )

From the article

The ministry said that Rikuentai failed to keep driver's manuals, which contain route and safety information,

The investigation also highlighted that the driver was given only a single route description and had a GPS in the bus, but he was a naturalized Chinese citizen who had very poor order of Japanese and could hardly read manuals including even the short route description written in Japanese

From the article:

However, Rikuentai said that a relief driver is only necessary if the journey is over 670 kilometers. The stated distance of the trip to Tokyo Disneyland was 540 kilometers.

But, the driver missed the Joshin-etsu and took another route the Kan-etsu that added plus 40-50 km distance to the route and due to the detour he had to drive longer distance. Passenger witnesses also said that the driver was busy with the JPS all the time and didn't understand it as a result he made the route longer in kilometers.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

i am a long distance tour driver in new zealand. i work 70 hours a week, 14 hours a day. we have a 24 hour break after completing the 70 hours. we drive 600 plus kilometers a day. $17.00 per hour. we carry up to 50 passengers. the tour coach costs around $650.000.00 nz dollars. we travel on some very difficult roads especially in the south island. we drive in snow, ice all sorts of conditions. i have been driving for 28 years now and have carried many thousands of japanese.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Article saids: "Under ministry safety rules, bus drivers must spend no more than nine hours per day at the wheel on average over a two-day period. Management is also obliged to ensure that they do not exceed four hours of continuous driving."

How ridiculous. If the bus driver is restricted to drive only 4 hours of continuous driving, how can these bus companies stay in business? These bus companies are not making much and the J-goverment is asking them to carry two drivers in one bus to complete the long destination? They will be losing money for sure. Is J-goverment serious about above quote by ministry safety rules? How are they going to enforce this rule?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

sfjp330May. 05, 2012 - 07:57AM JST

By raising the prices. It is still cheaper than to buy a new bus and pay compensation for the families of the deceased, not mentioning the loss of lives. Or do they think the insurance company will pay and don't mind tragic traffic accidents? For customers even higher bus prices would be cheaper than the bullet train.

It might reduce business, but that is a general economic problem when people cannot afford traveling.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

All this talk and "findings" deflects only from the real culprit: the government, that is too afraid of the yaks who after the lost war ran most of the transporting businesses and thus created weak laws with big loopholes. Not to mention the police that are even more afraid of the yaks and thus will never control trucks, only cars.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Boy, talk about shutting the barn door after the cat's out of the bag (I just love intentionally mixing metaphores!)! Thank you J-gov for protecting us citizens (and long-term foreign residents) by revealing what is apparntly UNIVERSAL violations of labor and safety laws (after several deaths of course)!

Warnerbro does raise an interesting point although I disagree with his implied conclusions. Deregulation as it has been practiced to date in Japan is a disaster. (Full disclosure: I am an MBA and an unappologetic cheerleader for capitalism.) Degregulation means that you lower barriers to entry and create more competiton which results in lower prices, more variety, better goods and services, etc. These are all good things. Deregulation does NOT mean that there are NO rules and businesse can do what ever the hell they want to make a profit. That is called CHINA, and I think we all agree it is not in the public interest.

On a related note, as an equally unappologetic cheerleader for Democracy as a form of government, this incident makes me ill that the government of the people has no interest in protecting their safety unless and until something goes wrong, people die, there is a scandal, or some combination thereof. I used to live in shock that the public would put up with these shenagans, but having lived here for so long, I have come to realize that after the first 50 or so scandals, you just kind of get used to it.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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