As many as 19 lives were lost in the accident that occurred in Avinashi in Tiruppur district of Tamil Nadu in the early hours of February 20. A report filed by the Palakkad RTO (Enforcement) confirmed that the accident took place either because the driver fell asleep at the wheel, or because he was careless.
The report also makes recommendations regarding how such accidents can be avoided in future. One of the recommendations made was that each lorry should have two drivers. But, this was a rule that was in existence, which was then removed.
The two-driver rule was brought in as part of Rule 90 in the January 2016 amendment to the Central Motor Vehicles Rules, 1989, where vehicles with a national permit needed two drivers to ply. This was until the November 2018 amendment to the Rules, where the requirement was removed, and a single driver was made sufficient.
MG Jeevan, a practicing lawyer at a court in North Paravur, Ernakulam, alleged in a Facebook post that the amendment was brought in in 2018 because of pressure from truck owners, who did not want to spend money on an extra driver.
According to Jeevan, the 2016 amendment was brought in based on the findings by the Indian Foundation of the Transport Research of the Training (IFTR) and National Transportation Planning and Research Centre (NATPAC) â€” that the cause of most accidents was because drivers fell asleep at the wheel.
â€śHowever, this was done away with in the 2018 amendment, and that happened because of the influence of the lorry owners. The media was silent on it, and neither did MPs question it. There should be agitation to bring back the 2016 amendment,â€ť Jeevan's post reads.
BG Sreedevi, the Chief Scientist of NATPAC confirmed to TNM that such accidents primarily take place between 2 am and 4 am, when the probability of falling asleep is high.
â€śIt is desirable to have two drivers on vehicles which travel long distances. One should be given ample time to take rest while the other drives. Most of the time, drivers donâ€™t get enough proper rest during the daytime, and that also makes them more fatigued at night,â€ť she said.
Speaking to TNM, Joint Transport Commissioner Rajeev Punthalath said they have been opposing the 2018 amendment since the time it was brought in. "The drivers of lorries that run for long distances lorries rarely go home and get rest, and would constantly be working. They cover several states without a decent break,â€ť he said.
The 2018 amendment was done without any scientific study, alleged Rajeev.
"The earlier rule stated that the national permit was to be given only for lorries only if they have two drivers at the same time in a cabin and if a berth for the drivers to sleep on alternate turns. In non-passenger vehicles, the seating for drivers is not as comfortable as it is in passenger vehicles,â€ť Rajeev said.
He also stated that the amendment was brought in 2018 due to pressure from lorry owners.
He further added that in a few countries, a driver would be penalised if he was working for over eight hours and that there is a system to monitor it. "Either such a system should be in place or the rule should be such to have two drivers on each trip,â€ť he added.