A Hong Kong bus driver was jailed for four years on Wednesday over the deaths of six passengers and injuries to 38 others when he momentarily fell asleep behind the wheel of a double-decker in 2019.
KMB driver Man Chi-kwong, 57, was carrying 72 passengers on his last trip of the day when the crash occurred near Tsung Pak Long as the vehicle was headed towards Sheung Shui on Fanling Highway.
Without warning, the double-decker veered left, first grazing against the anti-crash barrier, then slamming into the trees beyond it at about 4.13pm on December 18, the District Court was told.
Do you have questions about the biggest topics and trends from around the world? Get the answers with SCMP Knowledge, our new platform of curated content with explainers, FAQs, analyses and infographics brought to you by our award-winning team.
The collision tore off parts of the upper deck’s roof, flinging out two passengers, who subsequently died. The front and side of the vehicle nearest to the barrier were also seriously damaged.
Four other passengers were certified dead, while 38 suffered injuries – eight of them very serious, including skull and spinal fractures.
Man initially told a paramedic he had “suddenly lost sight and crashed into a tree”, then explained to a police constable he was trying to grab a water bottle, before finally admitting to another that he had momentarily dozed off behind the wheel.
The camcorder seized from the vehicle showed Man appeared to fall asleep at 4.01pm as his head nodded and fell backwards. The driver also seemed to be yawning at about 4.05pm, before abruptly dropping his left hand from the wheel eight minutes later.
He immediately placed the hand back on the wheel, which then continued to veer left until the moment of impact. He applied the brakes only after the collision had occurred.
Earlier this month, Man pleaded guilty to one count of dangerous driving causing death and another of causing grievous bodily harm. The former carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, while the latter is capped at seven.
The court heard he had been a KMB driver since 2001, and assigned to the route in question in 2017. He had one previous traffic conviction – for careless driving in 2011 – and was fined HK$900.
On the day of the crash, he reported for duty at 5.58am, after taking the previous day off.
It was the weight of his hand on the steering wheel which had the effect of steering the bus to the left while Mr Man was not fully awake to make corrections
District Judge Isaac Tam
In mitigation, he apologised to the victims and their families through his defence counsel Francis Cheng, who said he was very remorseful for causing the tragedy and had demonstrated “utter sorrow”.
Mitigation letters depicted Man as a kind and helpful driver who worked dutifully and had driven safely in the years before the incident.
But District Judge Isaac Tam Sze-lok noted that the driver’s good character carried little weight in a case where deterrence was the dominant sentencing principle, among other considerations such as retribution and denunciation.
The judge said the two offences were particularly serious given that he had put all of the passengers’ lives at risk when he continued to drive the bus while knowing he was sleep-deprived.
Tam said he was sure that Man had shown signs of sleepiness and dozed off at critical moments, the most critical one being the three seconds when his left hand returned to the wheel.
“It was the weight of his hand on the steering wheel which had the effect of steering the bus to the left while Mr Man was not fully awake to make corrections,” the judge concluded.
Tam also disqualified Man from driving all classes of vehicles for the next five years and ordered him to undergo a driving improvement course at his own cost if he were to ever again get behind the wheel.
Man appeared calm upon hearing the sentence.
Outside court, Chief Inspector Tsui Ka-wing said she believed the sentence reflected the seriousness of a case in which Man’s driving fell far below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver.
Tsui also reminded all drivers, especially professionals, of their responsibility to passengers and other road users, and that they should not drive if feeling unwell.
This article Driver in Hong Kong bus crash that killed six sentenced to four years in prison first appeared on South China Morning Post