Saturday, 30 July 2016

On That Bus Crash In Taoyuan On July 19th

Today there is some news about the recent tour bus which caught fire on its way to Taoyuan International Airport with some two dozen Chinese tourists on board. Apparently prosecutors have said that the driver was a DUI case with an alcohol to blood ratio of 1.075 milligrams per liter (the legal limit is 0.25 milligrams per liter). The AFP piece published in the Taipei Times goes on to state the all too obvious consequence:
"The discovery means the probe is to focus more on the driver’s mental and physical state, he added. Prosecutors are delving into Su’s habits, diet and social circle to determine why he might have been driving over the legal limit, Wang said."
Yet there is something missing here. In the initial reports about the accident over a week ago, the bus was said to have caught fire first, and then span out of control crashing into the guard rail. Here is the Taipei Times' own front page report on the story from July 20th (the accident occured on the 19th):
"The National Highway Police Bureau said the bus appeared to have veered out of control after catching fire and then hit the guard rails on the outer lane of the freeway’s westbound lanes."
Now look: excessive alcohol consumption could cause the bus driver to crash, sure, but it could not cause the bus to catch fire. This is a critically important point - something else caused that bus to catch fire and then, having caught fire, it crashed and everyone died; the bus driver supposedly being intoxicated may have been an aggravating factor, but it could not possibly have been the primary cause of the accident if the NHPB were right that the bus caught fire first, and then began to swerve out of control before crashing.

My initial guess as to the cause of the crash was that somebody on board was smoking and dropped a cigarrette or perhaps had been messing about with fire crackers or some other incendiary idiocy. I think that guess is now further supported by another piece of information:
"Prosecutors have already said that five bottles of gasoline were found on the bus, despite regulations banning inflammable substances in vehicles."
Carrying bottles of gasoline on a bus is a criminal stupidity irrespective of whether the driver was as drunk as a skunk or as sober as a judge. So somebody on board the bus, possibly the driver, but not necessarily, dropped a cigarrette or somehow caused the beginning of a fire which then exploded once it reached the bottles of gasoline. The driver then lost control of the bus, crashing into the guard rails and everyone died from smoke inhalation before being charred by the inferno. That would be my conjecture as to the proximate cause of the accident, which does not require the driver to have been drunk, but which also does not rule out the driver being drunk.

That the investigation will now apparently focus on the alcohol consumption of the driver and his life style habits strikes me as poorly presented. If I were the leading investigator, I would have told reporters that the stand out information was the bottles of gasoline stored on the bus, and for this reason I wanted to investigate the driver's personal life and habits. What kind of moron stores gasoline in bottles on a crowded bus? That would have been a recipe for disaster even if he hadn't been drunk. Yet today's report says that prosecutors are going to be focusing on the driver's alcohol consumption.

So there is an interesting question here as to why they are doing this.

Perhaps by focusing on the driver, the prosecutors can draw attention away from the tour bus operating company whose directors may also bear legal responsibility for the operational conditions and safety of their buses. One wonders who the company directors are, or who their friends are.

Another possibility is that the prosecutors are intent on igniting further moral panic about drunk driving in Taiwan. I have long been of the opinion that drunk driving laws are a poor substitute for effective moral sanction and are an indication of atrophied personal and social responsibility. It is this that should be worrying people far more than the consumption of alcohol.

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