'Underage' driver topples school bus, 26 injured

Steered by the regular driver's "inexperienced" grandson, who was also underage probably, a school bus with 25 teachers on board on Sunday toppled over a Ford Fiesta car near Tapa on the Bathinda road here.

The bus belongs to a private school of Quila Raipur and it was taking computer teachers of Ludhiana and Sangrur districts to a rally in Bathinda. Three of the 26 people injured in the incident and are serious.

The group had tea at a dhaba near Barnala before the accident. Bus driver Buta Gir accepted that he had handed over the vehicle's control to his grandson. "He was forcing me to let him drive, and I relented. After some distance, the bus overturned and crashed into a car coming from the Bathinda side," said the driver, not accepting his mistake.

His grandson fled after the accident. "It wasn't his fault. The passengers were egging him to go fast," said the driver. He declined to disclose his grandson's name, age, or driving-license details. The teachers said the driver's grandson did not look even 18 or that he had the experience of driving a heavy vehicle. "To him, it was a joy ride, which almost became our final journey," said one.

The condition of injured Sukhwinder Singh, Yamin and Wasir Mohammad is serious. They were referred to hospitals in Ludhiana and Patiala. Of the injured, the 16 moved to the Barnala Civil Hospital are Robin Sharma of Malerkotla; Vinod Kumar; Harvinder Singh of Dehlon; Nashir of Ahmedgarh; Davinder Singh; Rishu; Nashir Mohammed; Kuldeep Singh of Dehlon; Jaspal; Rashid; Irish; Amarjit Singh; Yadwinder Singh of Malerkotla; Karamjit; Rishav; and Kuldeep Singh.

The investigating officer at Tapa, police sub-inspector Avtar Singh, confirmed that a case had been registered. "For being eligible to drive a heavy vehicle, one has to be at least 21; and to steer a school bus, one also requires at least three years of bus-driving experience under the belt; besides valid licence in both cases," said the district transport officer of Barnala, adding: "A usual HTV (heavy transport vehicle) licence is made at 25."

Since the driver told the inquiry officer that his grandson was around 21, he was underage and inexperienced probably, though police said they were after the details.


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