Friday, February 25, 2011

Terror on the roads

In the last three days, a rash of bus accidents have left more than 20 people dead, more than 100 injured in El Salvador. This is a story at least as familiar and as terrifying as the stories of extortion and intimidation by gang members.

In each case some of the bus drivers were going far faster than the speed limit, and in some cases the buses were jockeying with each other for the lead. The result - not surprising given the age and mechanical condition of many buses here - was a disaster for the people on the buses and for the overworked hospital system, but not for the owners of the bus lines. (photo from La Prensa Grafica)

I'm told that the owners of bus lines have no requirement to buy insurance or to indemnify people when they are injured by wild drivers or bad equipment. In other words, they have no serious financial interest in making sure that their buses are well maintained and driven by competent motorists.

Since most Salvadorans have no choice but to take a bus or one of the many pickups that provide para-transit around the country, it's a matter of justice to give the bus route owners some self-interest in safety. There's been a call to require owners to have insurance, which seems like an obvious next step, but that seems to be mired in a tug-of-war between those who favor a public insurance provider and the private insurance market. Meanwhile, the crashes continue.

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