CHURUMURI POLL: Are Volvo buses safe in India?

Such is the hold of aircraft manufacturing giants over governments, politicians, administrators and over the media that few, if any, airline crashes are ever eventually pinned on the plane or its manufacturer. It is, almost always, “pilot error” or “human error”, never the machine’s or its maker’s fault. They are angels.

And so it seems to be in the case of Volvo, the Swedish bus maker, which seems to be have conquered Indian roads and minds with its sexy looking but patently dangerous vehicles.

The fire which roasted alive 45 people in Mahbubnagar last month was blamed on the driver of the Volvo bus.


And, sure enough, it seems the fire which roasted alive 7 people in Haveri will be blamed on the driver of the Volvo bus.

Photo Caption

Volvo claims its buses are safe, that drivers and bus staff are trained to deal with hazards and accidents, and that is overspeeding that is killing people. That rapacious bus operators have ill-trained, underpaid staff, who try to cut corners to reach destinations ahead of schedule.

Questions: looking at a large Volvo bus with a tiny door in the front on the road, does it give you the sense of being safe? Are the speeds it can do suitable for Indian roads? Why are mostly private buses falling involved in such horrific accidents? Will a blackbox or speed governor really make travelling safe?

Photographs: Karnataka Photo News and The Hindu

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27 Responses to “CHURUMURI POLL: Are Volvo buses safe in India?”

  1. nagaraja Says:

    Safest transport on this paradise is KARNATAKA GRAMATHARA SARIGE. Edakkilla sarisaate sarige. Saves life, Saves Money. Cures back pain, shoulder pain, fills stomach quiet often on the way. Gets fresh breath of air. Builds relationship among commuters.

  2. vaidya Says:

    Don’t blame the machines, blame the users. You don’t blame the Manikya for what the Manga does with it.

    We do best with tin boxes that rumble along at 50-60 kmph at max. Look at the way BMTC Volvos run. Surprising not many are killed in Bangalore. The way they overtake on flyovers where which have surfaces like sine curves with the crest at the joints, its a matter of time before some fall off the side!

  3. Nastika Says:

    looking at a large Volvo bus with a tiny door in the front on the road, does it give you the sense of being safe?
    Bus body is designed by Volvo based on the requirements of the operator. All KSRTC Volvos has emergency door on the right side of the bus. None of the private operators have this door. You have to ask why.

    Are the speeds it can do suitable for Indian roads?
    With plenty of cattle on highways, people jumping into roads at their will, roads dug up at random spots, anything above 90 Km/hr is suicidal. Multi axle volvos are capable of doing 160 Km/hr. Private volvos leave 1 hour late but reach the destination 1 hour earlier. You have to ask how.

    Why are mostly private buses falling involved in such horrific accidents?
    The occupancy of these buses on weekdays it very low. So these private operators transport cargo. It can be anything from onions, smuggled goods from port, booze, fuel and anything that attracts duty in the other state. Sometimes the driver & cleaner store the pump/gas stove for cooking in the luggage compartment. No wonder the bus is up in flames.

    Will a blackbox or speed governor really make travelling safe?
    Yes factory fitted speed governor, which cannot be tampered with will help. Also a rule that bus driver must have rested for at least 8 hours before the trip will definitely help.


  4. Venkatarama Muthuswami Says:

    Churumuri raised some valid questions. The design, structure and other efficient operational issues are to be determined by experts. But, as an Indian road user, our very best roads are not suitable for driving such huge vehicles at high speed, I.e. over 100 kmph. Not only that. Our drivers for handling such vehicles are not properly trained, performance monitored and checked in any effective manner. Can you imagine the driver on US expressways abandoning the vehicle on accident and running away. It does not happen period. The driver will remain in the scene to help the passengers and arrange for emergency help. Also, it is law! Not in this stupid place.

  5. tuLuva Says:

    have you wondered why only private operated buses are getting fire? generally they are better maintained compared to govt operators.

    They carry illegal chemical goods in unscientific packaging. small shocks can make them catch fire.

  6. Anonymous Guy Says:

    This is a question for the government agency which certifies road worthiness of vehicles. Which is a joke, since our government built roads are not worthy of anything.

    A bus with windows to jump out off will have a small impact if any in reducing these tragedies. European design is only one factor.

    For higher quality and safety levels, we need:
    1. Manufactured in European factory
    2. European government agency to ensure adherence to standards
    3. European driver
    4. European road
    5. European pedestrians
    6. European bus operators who understand and comply with government standards

    Note to patriot missle commentors: I use the ‘European’ tag in frustration here. The people does not matter, it is the attitude for quality

    Once we have the above things, we can discuss high standards of safety in design of windows and other such matters.
    Since it is not going to happen in our lifetime, swalpa adjust maadkoli swami, naavirodhe heege.

  7. Prof. Shetty Says:

    The latest accident bus belonged to National Travels, owned by former Minister and JD-S muscleman and legislator B.Z. Zameer Ahmed. His brother Shakeel Ahmed, a partner of National Travels is a well known hawala operator. The owners refuse to admit the accident was caused by reckless driving by drivers working overtime and instead the politician and well-known JD-S thug, who owns around 70 buses, now blames the bus manufacturer!

    A Volvo bus costs Rs. 1.1 crore and the returns to the bus operators are an astonishing 80 crores on average, within the five-year-permit. Licenses for key routes like Udipi-Mangalore-Bangalore, Chennai-Bangalore, Mumbai-Bangalore, Bangalore-Kochi/Thiruvananthapuram, Mumbai-Kolhapur etc are sold for thousands of crores by successive govt’s with absolutely no regard for any safety or alternative, cheaper or safer travel modes. The much in need, Mlr-Blr train has been successfully scuttled for decades by the pvt bus operator cartel and political nexus.

    A standard Volvo bus come with a 350 litre diesel tank which all of these operators customise. They illegally increase it to 700-750 litres to avoid refills and downtime.

    Driver fatigue is well- known. Government owned transport corporations use two drivers, but private operators make do with one to save costs.

    It is common knowledge that in India Pvt transport buses are not just used to transport passengers but also cargo. Volvo Buses have cavernous holds (a two-wheeler can be stored upright and are commonly transported, illegally!) and given that many passengers on the overnight Bangalore-Hyderabad run were travelling on work or on a short trip home, they wouldn’t carry much luggage. Which means the Jabbar Travels, National Travels, Sharma al, these crooked bus operators of the ill-fated buses would normally stuff the luggage hold with heavy and dangerous cargo, many times overloaded, including on top of the buses!

    The biggest elephant – officials and the state government, who are supposed to be responsible for ensuring that operators adhere to bus safety standards, that buses are not overcrowded, who have to ensure no third-party cargo is carried if such buses are not permitted to carry cargo, and who have to enforce rules that mandate safety equipment is present in the case of an emergency, ensure only properly-trained drivers are allowed to drive such powerful vehicles, etc…etc. The bus operators actually make more money on cargo and convenient greasing of sarkari palms ensures that authorities look the other way.

    The back-to-back tragedies involving air-conditioned buses operated by private tour operators in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka have set cash bells ringing for officials. Instead of enforcing safety, we can now expect higher hafta and more aggressive bribe-mobilization drives by the Cong-I govt!

    As expected, Karnataka Transport Minister Ramalinga Reddy and Chief minister Siddaramaiah have now warned private bus operators of stringent action if they violate laws like overloading of goods in passenger vehicles and not giving enough rest to drivers during a journey. Well, we can now expect the enforcement staff will inspect vehicles during a ‘special drive’ every month. With elections approaching, the well-known cartel around the ‘honest CM’ will take every opportunity to accumulate massive fortune, even tragic accidents where innocent people got burnt in minutes!

    Long distance bus drivers will tell you that government officials do stop the buses, but it’s not for checks, but to collect their regular bribes. In fact, many drivers carry small diaries for each such ‘regular’ check and pay a monthly fee and the official makes a unique mark on the diary which can be shown for a month to allow passage without further extortion!

    The “socialist and honest CM” has announced that government will give a mere Rs 1 lakh (shamelessly insensitive) as compensation to the kin of dead while the pvt bus operators makes 100’s of crores every week and pay an equal amount in bribes to the politicians of the ruling party. All political parties are to blame for the current state of affairs. It may be recalled that the former Transport minister in the previous Govt., made millions and built a palatial bungalow while in power.

    Well, while hammers have now become a mandatory personal item to all pvt. bus travellers in Karnataka, these tragic accidents prompt outpourings of grief and outrage, but sadly nothing ever happens. The media too will ignore the matter while greedy officials and extremely corrupt politicians have the last laugh!

  8. harkol Says:


    You missed out the true reason why our roads are death traps:

    1. Roads are built unscientifically. We have turns, humps, culverts and even medians which are all designed to kill. A car going at 80-100km/hr can easily topple if it goes over something that is unexpected.

    2. We have abysmal law enforcement, making India one of the world’s unsafest place for driving. Most deaths occur because there is no one enforcing speed limits on our highways. Our highways are designed for 80km/hr (and that’s the legal speed limit) but, it is usual to see most vehicles driving at that speed. Volvos typically do 110-120km/hr.

    3. Even our tolled roads are not access controled. So, it is normal to see villagers, cows and even bullock carts crossing or even coming from wrong side.

    4. There is no safety rule imposition on the vehicle manufacturers. There is no clearcut call back rules or even compensation policies.

    So, thinking if a particular vehicle is bad is like asking after a building fire (like Carlton towers), if that particular tower was bad. It is general culture and lax regulation & punishment system that’s to be blamed.

  9. Goldstar Says:

    Nastika has pointed out the problems well. You can go close to any private operator depot and you realise that the driver and the “cleaner” practically live in the bus. They have gas cylinders, stoves etc inside the luggage compartment. And then you blame Volvo.

    As usual, Churumuri is frothy and superficial in its analysis.

  10. Vinay Says:

    Churumuri is frothy and superficial in its analysis as usual. Goldstar is absolutely right.

    There is nothing wrong with the Volvos. The problem is with our bus operators and government. Let them build roads that allow safe driving at speeds of 100-110 km/h. Let them ensure that no driver drives for more than 6 hours at a stretch. Let them ensure that no overloading or illegal goods carriage takes place.

    First do this, then blab about “unsafe Volvos”. Even if you are given a Rolls Royce, if you load it with LPG cylinders in the boot and fill the back seat with bales of straw and drive on Bellary road at 150 km/hr, you will die and your car will explode in flames. Of course the Rolls Royce driver would have had to bribe a cop to carry all that LPG in his boot. Now blame Rolls Royce for building bad cars. Huh.

    And churumuri – it is certainly true that most aviation mishaps are caused by human error. More than 99.99999999999% of aviation mishaps are indeed caused by human error. So, you can cut out the sarcasm there.

  11. shiv Says:

    I am impressed by the out pourings of Prof. Shetty , it is a given thing under current government rules, only crooks can operate travel services. They cut many corners one of which i was made aware is even in mid 1990s, they were carrying highly hazardous/dangerous laboratory chemicals in their luggage hold. Some of these chemicals are explosive/ highly inflammable cause temperatures higher than 1000deg celcius/fumes are highly toxic so much if exposed to atmosphere people can get killed instantaneously..I don’t know whether these jokers still carry these chemicals in their luggage hold.However, the issue is of 2 rests with the operator and the other Volvo.How can a bus after an accident catches fire so fast that very few can escape? There obviously some design error with the fuel tank location.It is not possible that all the 3 volvo buses which caught fire had dangerous chemicals in their luggage hold.Can we expect in this atmosphere of all round mediocrity, these incidents will be professionally investigated? fat chance

  12. Arun Says:

    Joint Commissioner of Transport R.V. D’Souza said on Thursday that as many as 250 cases have been booked on a single night, against mostly private operators for their failure to adhere to the passenger safety guidelines that include providing emergency exits. In order to overload the bus with cargo or all sorts, it was discovered that the emergency exit in private buses is at least 9 ft above the ground from outside the bus making it impossible for passengers to jump out,” said an RTO officer who was engaged in the drive.

    Zameer Ahmed, the JD-S leader who amassed huge wealth while the Gowda family ran the state Govt, had initially claimed that there could also be a possible flaw in the bus design leading to the accident.

    The preliminary investigations by the transport department and NATRiP has now revealed some shocking facts! National Travels had violated the original Volvo design by putting up an unauthorized seat next to the driver; the cleaner sat there. The seat blocked passage for passengers to escape from the front door during emergency.

    Can the innocent passengers now sue the bus operator?

    The inspection team of the accident site and later spot checks on buses on the outskirts of Blr, had members from National Automotive Testing and R&D Infrastructure Project (NATRiP) and included former transport commissioner and IGP (Northern Range), Belgaum, Bhaskar Rao. It may be noted that Mr. Rao, during his stint as KSRTC Director (Security and Vigilance), had fought against powerful politicians, the then transport minister and fixers involved in new bus procurement and ensured that Volvo Buses supplied its coaches with a third passenger door on the right hand side of the coach

    The team which stopped private buses on Friday, found every one of them violating passenger safety norms. “We checked so many buses. None of them had hammers for passengers to break windows in times of emergency. There was no provision for the seatbelt for either the driver or passengers,” Bhaskar Rao said. What was shocking was that while a handful of buses had dilapidated safety belts, strangely for the first row passengers only, a few buses had two-wheelers in their cargo hold! It is not known if their petrol tanks were empty or not.

    Since the Mahabubnagar accident, over 4,000 tourist and private buses have been subjected to thorough inspection. While 1,999 cases were registered against the operators, shockingly the permits of only around 25 buses have cancelled. “As long as the politician-pvt bus operator cartel is active, we can’t have any safety rules implemented. Steps need to be immediately being taken to ensure private operators provide emergency doors, hammers and do not transport cargo in their buses, particularly inflammable and highly dangerous substances.” said a key member of the inspection team.

    Meanwhile, Transport Minister R. Ramalinga Reddy on Thursday revealed that the Govt. order issued by the Transport Commissioner in 2008 and 2010 that required vehicle manufacturers and bus operators to mandatory install the emergency door was withdrawn, due to strong lobbying by the bus operators under the leadership of a powerful politician who belonged to the ruling party. He however declined to name the individual.

    On persistent queries from journalists, R Ramalinga Reddy who is also Bangalore in-charge minister, admitting that it’s not just the buses but the roads in Blr too are indeed in very bad shape despite almost Rs 590 crores spent on repairing the roads by the Cong-I govt in the last 3 months!

    Reddy said: “It is not very bad everywhere. I have personally seen only 10 potholes on Inner Ring Road, connecting Indiranagar to Koramangala” He added that on the occasion of completing six months in office, the Congress government headed by CM Siddaramaiah will soon announce projects like making five signal-free corridors and renovation of 18 stretches under project ‘Tender Sure’. These major projects that will cost around 1400 crores!

    Well, be it tragic accidents or the misery of pot-holes in Blr, it is indeed a windfall for everyone in power.

  13. Malliarjun Channappagoudar Says:

    We need to hear the driver’s story as well? And what about the roads? Are they safe? What made the driver hit the culvert? Not much coverage around these questions.

  14. Suresh Gowda Says:

    We will soon have elections, so as expected the ‘announcement- obsessed’ CM Siddaramaiah has instructed his Minister for Transport Ramalinga Reddy to make the relevant announcement (among many being planned) aimed at accomplishing the target set by Madam and Prince, for the funds mobilization drive for the Cong-I election campaign.

    For the concerned and helpless middle-class in Blr, Minister Reddy has also promised (for the nth time!) that potholes in the city would be filled by this month-end with additional funds allocation. Well, there are funds from the treasury always available, to be pocketed in the service of the common man.

  15. nilesh Says:

    check the ksrtc volvos going to pondicherry, goa, trivandrum and coming from pune all are loaded with commercial goods, and the drivers earn 2-3k per trip.

  16. Rastrakoota Says: watch it, Wondering with all the tampering that’s done with fuel tank capacity extended to 700 litres like someone pointed out and the road safety measures which are pathetic to say the least, wat will the team of Volvo engineers flown in say;-)

  17. Radhika Shetty Says:

    It is a fact that our culture, executive, judiciary and Govt have always been reactive rather than take precautions and focus on critical factors like safety.

    Take the case of “school bus transport” that involves innocent children who are the future of our country!

    Apart from Bangalore, in many cities and town of Karnataka, it is a common sight to see school children stuffed like sardines and being transported in Auto-rickshaws, dilapidated min-buses, CNG-Maruthi vans and all sorts of vehicles that are not only completely illegal but lack the most basic travel facilities or safety standards.

    Not only are these scrupulous culprits running a lucrative, regular business using fake registration papers without any fitness certificate or transport license, most of them do not even having a properly functioning brake, while some are usually under the influence of alcohol!

    Take any school in Bangalore and you will find 12 to 15 poor students, packed in the most humiliating, torturing and back-breaking postures in a single Auto-rickshaw or tiny CNG-run vans. In case, of the Auto’s the driver will ensure he has one or two children on either side sharing his small seat! In case of the Vans, it is a common sight to notice the children’s heads sticking out of the windows in order to avoid suffocation.

    In the past there have been multiple accidents where in the driver of the school bus which turned turtle or had a collision or burst into flames, and responsible for the death of boys and girls, always manages to grease, greedy palms and escapes, either from the accident spot or more often, after getting arrested. Everyone knows that Section 304 of the IPC is spineless and those who get arrested are always left off on bail, despite homicide and murder. Of course, the IPC is also routinely abused by others including film stars, businessman and sons of politicians.

    The police and transport dept do admit that it is a major problem that successive ministers have sadly ignored, partly because of the regular hafta paid by the pvt. operators cartel and nexus with politicians.

    While politicians and officials turn the other cheek, Transport officials say they would start investigation and raids once they get an official request from the police. On the otherhand, the police say that most of the drivers and operators do not even have vehicle’s permit, fitness certificate..etc and blame it on the corrupt Transport authorities.

    In fact, sometime back, when a unauthorised school bus, belonging to St Philomena’s School turned turtle due to alcohol-fuelled negligent driving, killing many children, MA Saleem, the then Additional Commissioner (Traffic) said that apart from the Transport Operators, the pvt. schools too have always violated many permit laws!

    It is high time, Churumuri and its readers highlight one of the most glaring tragedies waiting to happen.

  18. Lobo Says:

    Compared to the antique design used by Tata and Ashok Leyland buses and trucks, the modern Volvo vehicles are globally synonymous with safety.

    In the recent accidents, in both the cases, it has been confirmed and conclusively proved, that the bus drivers were on extended overtime and driving continuously for more than 12-14 hours! Can you imagine your own mental and physical condition in such a scenario?

    In case of the Govt buses, the advanced technology based Volvo vehicles need to be driven only by Volvo certified drivers. Incidentally, the certification has only a 70% passing rate.

    What is even worse is that the owners of the transport companies conveniently blame the reputed bus manufacturer while all the preliminary investigations have discovered sufficient proof that not only was the bus illegally modified by their operators, the vehicles did not have any passenger safety features and the accident was a direct result of driver fatigue.

    Perhaps, Volvo India will claim damages from Pvt. Operators and politicians like Zameer Ahmed who makes crores daily but don’t even have a sense of responsibility or humility or compassion.

    These greedy and chronically corrupt businessmen can’t even pay a respectable compensation to innocent, poor passengers who got burnt beyond recognition!

  19. Naanu Naane Says:

    @Rastrakoota Watch this :D

  20. Vinay Says:

    Lobo, Rastrakoota and Radhika:

    Excellent posts. Trust churumuri to indulge in superficial and asinine “analysis” and point fingers at the Volvo bus itself, instead of putting the blame on our administration/regulatory authorities and greedy operators.

    It does not matter even if you give these bus operators technology of the same safety standards as Boeing and Airbus – they will fuck it up.

  21. Doddi Buddi Says:

    +1 to Vinay

    I have been told by my friends some of these pvt operators in Bangalore have actually welded shut the emergency exit doors in the name of “external security”! What chance has Volvo bus got against these moronic assholes! Also it is routine in places like Hong Kong where there is a special hammer-like tool pasted on the wide windows of doubledecker buses so that in case of any emergency passengers can actually break the glass open from inside while also using emergency Exit doors!

    KSRTC Volvo buses routinely carry illegal cargo. There is a big racket which is organized by the driver, depot, manager and various transport agents.

  22. D.V. Raghavan Says:

    As a reputed manufacturers Volvo must have underwent lot of lab tests and its road worthiness, stability, safety aspects and more than anything all parts and spares must have had their own standards. Therefore, I feel rough and misuse by the crew and ground checks must have caused accidents. However all machines and are made to protect from fools handling, but nothing can be manufactured to protect from bloody fools handling.

    D.V. Raghavan

  23. Bala Says:


    There are nearly 5 lakh road accidents that happen in India every year (Based on National Statistics of Road accidents in India)

    – Every day many buses and trucks collide head-on in India everyday – BUT THEY DO NOT CATCH FIRE.

    – Every day many vehicles fall from bridge or in to deep gorges – BUT THEY DO NOT CATCH FIRE

    – Every day many vehicles jump over median and even topple over – BUT THEY DO NOT CATCH FIRE


    There seem to be fundamental design issues with Volvo buses.



  24. Nastika Says:

    If KSRTC Govt Volvo meets an accident, they don’t catch fire.

    You have to ask why private volvos catch fire.

    Meanwhile, check this link –


  25. Anonymous Guy Says:

    Another way of framing this is: Who would you trust? Who would you blame? Indians or Swedes?

    @Bala, You said, in India many vehicles collide, fall off bridges, go over median etc. Who/what is to blame for that?

  26. abhay Says:

    Bala has summarized very well, well said , congrates

  27. Arjun Says:

    I am a volvo b9r driver….when comparing volvo with other companies it is more powefulll and fully system controlled…more over its engine is at its it will provide a silent journey…As a driver it is our duty to reach our passengers at cotrect time…We have timetable and we cover ever KILOMETER based on that timetable…unexpected blocks,weather conditions e.t.c may change our timeline…if we lost 1 minute,we have to cover that in on time…passagenrs are very busy…if we drive slowly and reach (destination) with 1 hour late,the same passanger will blame us….but we always obey indian traffic laws

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