Kowloon Motor Bus Co. (KMB), one of Hong Kong’s franchised bus operators, will begin a new round of testing on an on-board system that aims to alert bus drivers if they become drowsy while at the wheel.
The firm’s managing director, Roger Lee Chak-cheong, revealed the plans during a hearing held on Wednesday by the government-commissioned Independent Review Committee on Hong Kong’s Franchised Bus Service, which is looking into bus travel safety issues.
The committee was established in March this year in the wake of a horrific accident involving a public transport bus the previous month.
On Feb. 10, a KMB double-decker bus flipped on its side and caused serious casualties after the driver reportedly lost control of the vehicle, in an accident that took place on Tai Po Road.
During the 12th hearing of the bus service review panel on Wednesday, KMB’s Lee said the operator will conduct further trials of technology that can help detect drowsy drivers and ensure a warning system.
According to Lee, the drowsiness detecting system, procured from an Australian company, can scan a bus driver’s pupils to see if the person has winked or closed the eyes for an abnormally long period of time, Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
If the system determines that such a situation happens, it will give out a warning sound as well as trigger the driver’s seat to vibrate, Lee said.
While admitting that there are still some technical issues to be solved for the system to be more effective, Lee noted it has been tested on four of the KMB-owned buses since the end of June and that the company has received positive feedback from the drivers.
Further testing on the system will start later this month, according to Lee.
The KMB boss also revealed that the company has been working on its own and separate anti-drowsiness system in partnership with a university in Northern Ireland since a year ago.
KMB Employees Union chairman Kwok Chi-shing, meanwhile, expressed reservations about the use of new systems to monitor drivers.
Using newfangled technologies to monitor driver behavior while they are at the wheel will only make the bus captains feel more pressure, Kwok argued, even though KMB has promised that the system will not save any data and also assured that any alert issued by the system to the bus captains will not be used for discipline action.
The union believes reducing the working hours for drivers is what is really important, Kwok said.
Among other topics, representatives from KMB and Long Win Bus, another licensed bus operator in the city, said at the hearing Wednesday that they have set a goal to install safety belts in all seats on their double-decker buses by 2019.
According to the firms, all the buses they had purchased since March this year have come with a safety belt in every seat.
Asked if there is a need to force every bus passenger to fasten a safety belt, KMB’s Lee said putting in place such a rule may not be easy, given that buses are allowed to carry standing passengers.
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