NEWS

Truck danger persists

It is now three months since the accident that claimed the lives of 21 schoolchildren on the Athens-Thessaloniki highway at Tempe, highlighting serious problems with transport safety. At the time, the authorities declared new measures and made a number of promises, but no real improvement has been seen, judging from the trucks that speed along the nation’s highways at weekends, numerous allegations and hundreds of infringements of the highway code. Immediately after the Tempe accident, in which a load of plywood came off a truck and sliced into a bus carrying schoolchildren home from an excursion, the Transport Ministry decided to impose tighter checks on trucks’ tires. As of last month, trucks and buses are required to have ABS (antilock brake systems) fitted. All prefectures are supposed to set up joint inspection teams to police the traffic code. But the law is not being implemented and it is drivers themselves who are protesting that inspections are not being made. «Inspections were stepped up after the accident, but as time has passed, things have gone back to the way they were before,» said Minas Dermatis, general secretary of the drivers’ union, in announcing the union’s decision to hold a 24- or 28-hour strike in Attica on Monday, and smaller-scale protests in September. On the other hand, Attica traffic police officers say that recently inspections of trucks and tourist coaches have been intensified. Attica traffic police statistics show that nevertheless, owners and drivers of trucks (for both private and public use) are not only disobeying road safety rules, but are ignoring them to such an extent that they are endangering the lives of anyone who dares venture out on the roads. Between January and the end of May this year, in Attica alone 1,554 overloaded trucks were found, 132 drivers were found to be driving under the influence of alcohol, 635 did not have drivers’ licenses, and 1,062 were caught going through a red light. Another driver was caught with a forged ADR certificate, required for drivers’ transporting dangerous material such as hazardous substances, fuel and ammunition. The case mobilized drivers’ unions in Macedonia and Thrace, who allege that their employers force them to transport dangerous materials even though they do not have the necessary skills. The ban on trucks circulating on weekends is clearly not observed. Referring to the Tempe accident, the traffic police and Transport Ministry proclaimed that the movement of trucks on highways would be banned and violators would face heavy fines. But anyone driving down a highway any weekend can see (quite apart from the heavy traffic) many trucks on the road, whose drivers often exceed the speed limits. The most serious infringements of the transport regulations concern excessive loads that are not properly secured, something that is difficult for traffic police to ascertain without the right equipment. The traffic police has only two movable sets of scales for weighing truck loads. If they insist that the driver waits until the scales arrive, then the truck owner has the right to sue the police officer for obstructing his work if the load is subsequently found to be within the permissible limits. As for the distribution of the load, the police officer is not in a position to know the transport specifications. Another common infringement is tampering with the tachograph, but detecting this violation involves more difficulties. According to the traffic police, officers have just begun training in this method. Bald tires, vehicles that have seen better days and drivers who are driving to the point of exhaustion after being forced to drive for up to 15 hours daily are some of the other, more common problems. Works continue at a snail’s pace Deputy Public Works Minister Yiannis Tsaklidis gave assurances (on Thursday) that road works to improve the section of highway at Tempe would be completed soon. Almost three months after the tragic accident, Tsaklidis reviewed the work, noting that 125 (77.5 miles) of the total 157 (97.4 miles) kilometers of the Larissa-Thessaloniki road are characterized as a motorway. The minister said that the remaining 32.5 kilometers (20 miles) through the Vale of Tempe and the Platamonas-Skotina section were being upgraded to motorway status after being included in the new tender for the construction of the Maliakos-Kleidi section. Tsaklidis also promised that all the necessary flyovers would be built (at Rapsani, Platamonas, Skotina, Korino, Makryialos, Agathoupoli and Aiginio).