Date
15 July 2019
The lives of the Citibus and truck drivers wouldn’t have been lost if the tunnel operator had managed to remove the lorry from the road within minutes after it stalled. Photo: TVB News
The lives of the Citibus and truck drivers wouldn’t have been lost if the tunnel operator had managed to remove the lorry from the road within minutes after it stalled. Photo: TVB News

How tunnel operator’s negligence cost the lives of two drivers

Hong Kong was shocked by a traffic accident that took place on Monday morning, when a double-decker bus headed towards the Western Harbour Crossing rammed into a stationary truck on West Kowloon Highway, killing the drivers of both vehicles and leaving 16 of their passengers injured.

Judging from facts available at this point, we believe the tragedy could have been avoided had the Western Harbour Tunnel Company (WHT) been able to provide immediate help to the truck driver and remove his vehicle from the road.

Since the fatal accident took place within the tunnel area, the company must take responsibility for it.

At around 9:10 a.m. on Monday, the lorry broke down on a section of the second lane of the highway off the private residential housing estate Sorrento, and its 54-year-old driver then got out of his vehicle and immediately called for a tow truck, according to his wife’s account.

Unfortunately, for about one hour and 15 minutes after the call, neither a tow truck nor any WHT personnel showed up at the scene to offer help. Then at 10:25 a.m., the tragedy struck.

Among the performance pledges listed on its website, the company vowed to “ensure no more than three minutes for staff to arrive at the scene of an incident that occurs within the tunnel area” and to “ensure an average time of no more than six minutes for removing an immobilized vehicle from the scene of an incident within the tunnel area”.

However, according to a spokesperson for the WHT, it wasn’t until 10:12 a.m., or more than an hour after the truck had broken down, that the central control room finally took notice of the incident after having received a citizen’s report.

The central control room then immediately sent patrol and recovery vehicles to the scene, which arrived there within seven minutes. But it was already too late.

The question is, how could the central control room possibly fail to detect the truck breakdown for about an hour?

Again, according to the tunnel operator’s explanation, even though there are 151 CCTV cameras in place across the tunnel area, they were unable to spot the immobilized truck because the location where it broke down is 300 meters behind the nearest camera.

In other words, the accident took place at a CCTV camera blind spot, hence the failure of the control center to notice it.

After the accident, some people blamed the Citybus captain while others put the blame on the truck driver.

However, based on common sense, the lives of the two drivers wouldn’t have been lost if the company had managed to remove the broken down truck from the road within minutes in accordance with its established procedures and send its personnel to control the traffic at the scene.

It is said that on that fateful morning, there was another road accident that took place within the tunnel area almost at the same time as the deadly bus crash.

Yet even so, we are definitely not convinced that the WHT lacks either the resources or manpower to handle two traffic accidents simultaneously.

Besides, since the root cause of the fatal accident is linked to the massive traffic management loopholes of the WHT caused by the CCTV blind spots in the tunnel area, it would have happened with or without the other accident.

That said, we strongly urge the government to order the WHT to take remedial actions immediately, such as, at the very least, getting the problem of the CCTV camera blind spots fixed as soon as possible, in order to prevent a similar tragedy from happening again.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 6

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal

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