Bus Accident Passion Link Coach Owner Faces Arrest
18 June 2024
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By Dorrothy Moyo | The tragic incident involving Passion Link Coaches, which resulted in the deaths of eight Anglican Church pilgrims, raises significant legal issues concerning road safety and vehicle maintenance regulations. Transport Minister Felix Mhona’s confirmation that the bus was unroadworthy and lacked a certificate of fitness implicates both the owner and the driver in serious legal violations.

Minister Mhona said “the bus was unroadworthy and was being driven without a certificate of fitness.”

He suggested that the company owner and the driver will be prosecuted.

Legal Framework and Liability

Vehicle Fitness and Roadworthiness

Under most jurisdictions, including Zimbabwe’s Road Traffic Act, it is illegal to operate a vehicle that is not roadworthy. A certificate of fitness is a mandatory requirement, ensuring that vehicles meet safety standards. Failure to obtain and maintain this certificate can result in severe penalties.

Case Law Examples

  1. R v. Campbell (1970): In this case, the owner of a commercial vehicle was prosecuted after an accident revealed that the vehicle was unroadworthy. The court held the owner liable for failing to ensure the vehicle was maintained to a safe standard, resulting in a conviction for negligence.
  2. S v. Dhlamini (1992): Here, the driver of a passenger bus was found guilty of culpable homicide after a crash that killed several passengers. The investigation revealed that the bus had significant mechanical defects. The court ruled that the driver had a duty to ensure the vehicle was in a roadworthy condition before operating it.
  3. Mutasa v. The State (2014): In a similar Zimbabwean case, the Supreme Court upheld the conviction of a bus company owner whose vehicle, lacking a proper certificate of fitness, was involved in a fatal accident. The court emphasized the owner’s responsibility to comply with vehicle safety regulations.

Specific Charges and Legal Consequences

Manslaughter or Culpable Homicide

Both the owner and the driver of Passion Link Coaches could face charges of culpable homicide, given that their negligence directly contributed to the deaths of the pilgrims. Culpable homicide is charged when an individual’s unlawful act or omission results in death, and it carries severe penalties, including imprisonment.

Negligence and Duty of Care

The owner has a legal duty to ensure that all vehicles in their fleet are maintained and certified as fit for use. This includes regular inspections and obtaining the necessary certificates. The driver also has a duty to verify the vehicle’s fitness before operating it. Failing to fulfill these duties constitutes negligence.

Civil Liability

In addition to criminal charges, the victims’ families may pursue civil claims for damages against both the owner and the driver. They could seek compensation for wrongful death, loss of support, and other related damages. Civil courts often look at similar precedents when awarding damages:

  • Ngcobo v. Santam Insurance Co Ltd (1996): The court awarded substantial damages to the family of a deceased passenger, emphasizing the operator’s duty to ensure vehicle safety.

Government and Regulatory Implications

This incident highlights the need for stricter enforcement of road safety regulations. The Transport Ministry may need to review and enhance its inspection and compliance mechanisms to prevent such tragedies in the future. Legislative amendments might be considered to impose harsher penalties on those who flout safety regulations.

The prosecution of the owner and driver of Passion Link Coaches serves as a critical reminder of the serious responsibilities held by vehicle operators and owners. Legal precedents underscore the gravity of maintaining roadworthy vehicles and complying with safety standards to protect public safety. The outcomes of this case will likely have significant implications for road safety enforcement and regulatory policies in Zimbabwe.