A number of significant safety breaches by authorities may have led to the tragic accident that killed seven Matsha Senior Secondary School students two weeks ago, Sunday Standard investigations have revealed.
An accident reconstruction expert engaged by the newspaper following the accident has painted a disturbing picture of callous disregard for students’ safety. Accident reconstruction details have revealed that the B577 AOI Toyota Hino Model 500 Series 13/237 truck that tipped over following a tire blow out between Kang and Letlhakeng was moving death trap.
Authorities have confirmed that there were 126 students aboard the truck with a maximum length of 7.2 meters and a width of 2, 5 meters. This means there were seven students huddled together per every square meter. With the students average weight estimated at 45 Kg and assumed to have been carrying a luggage of 5kg each the total payload would have been 6, 3 tons which would have exceeded the trucks carrying capacity of 6 tons. The expert explained that when a truck is overloaded, it can affect how the truck handles, which becomes especially dangerous in difficult roads or in emergency stopping situations. The situation is made even more dangerous when the outside temperature is very hot, and when the vehicle is driving farther. The combination can push a tire beyond its breaking point. “Adding any weight to an already-massive truck is in its self a challenge. Added weight makes an already unwieldy truck even harder to steer and control, especially if road conditions are not ideal. Turning, in particular, can be a problem if a truck is carrying extra-weightÔÇöin some cases a heavy load can cause a truck to flip over during a difficult turn. Now add the summer heat of the Kgalagadi desert and the long distance the truck had to travel and you have a recipe for a sure disaster. There is only so much abuse a tire can withstand”, he said.
He further explained that with a packing ratio of seven students per square meter, it would have been difficult for the students to sit down, which suggests that they were standing up throughout the long trip and this makes the truck most likely to tip over in the case of a tire burst or any disruption to its velocity.
The expert explained that the accident scene suggests that the truck overturned some hundred meters from where the tire blew out which is consistent with the overloading of the truck. “Steering becomes more difficult to control and vehicles take longer to react to braking when overloaded and this can dramatically affect vehicle handling and increase the likelihood of a costly ÔÇô and potentially fatal – accident. One of the greatest dangers associated with an overloaded truck is the strain placed on the vehicle’s brakes. Not only will a heavier truck take longer to stop, the added weight from overloading can cause so much strain on the vehicle’s brakes that they may fail altogether. Obviously, the results of such an occurrence would be tragic and, more than likely; deadly.Trucks operating under these conditions may be subject to rollovers or jackknifes, causing the driver to lose control of the rig.”
To illustrate how serious the overloading was, the expert used Botswana Defence Force (BDF) troop carriers for a comparative study. He explained that BDF DAF troop carriers which are 5 meters long are allowed to carry a maximum of 20 soldiers when kitted and 24 soldiers when not kitted and this is considered fully loaded. “And we are talking about men who have undergone rigorous training to withstand taxing strain, now imagine school children in a truck packed like a slave ship having to drive about 300 km from Letlhakeng to Kang huddled together like sardines. This is not only a safety breach it is also a serious health hazard”, he explained.
The expert further explained that the truck that ferried Matsha Senior Secondary school students was fitted with 14.00R20 Apollo single tires at the rear. “Normally it comes with the 11.00R20 doubles. The 14.00R means the distance between the rim and the ground was three inches higher than it would normally be. While this would help protect the tires from pinching in case they hit potholes, it makes the truck more likely to tip over in case of a tire blow out because the axle would have a steeper tilt”, he said.