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30% of Malaysian bus drivers suffer from sleep disorders, says survey

TRANSIT members were shocked and disappointed to read the news in The Star today, which shared the results of a survey by the Sleep Disorder Society of Malaysia and the JKJR which showed that a significant number of Malaysian bus drivers suffer from sleep disorders.

30% of M’sian bus drivers suffer from sleep disorders (The Star)
Saturday February 18, 2012

KUALA LUMPUR: Sleeping disorders affect 30 percent of 300 bus drivers in the country, with eight percent categorised as chronic, raising fears about their driving performance.

Sleep Disorder Society Malaysia (SDSM) president Dr Muhammad Muhsin Ahmad Zahari said the statistics were obtained in a joint study with the Road Safety Department (JKJR) recently.

“The survey was carried out on 300 bus drivers from five transport companies nationwide and what shocked us the most was that eight percent are at a severe level,” he told Bernama at the Sleep Disorder Society Malaysia (SDSM) Scientific Meeting – Towards Healthier Sleep in Malaysia event, here on Saturday.

[TRANSIT: We want to know which companies!]

The Universiti Malaya Medical Faculty senior lecturer and psychiatrist said this group of people, who find it difficult to sleep and experience severe disorders including sleep apnea (characterised by abnormal pauses in breathing while sleeping), are at risk of being involved in industrial or road accidents.

[Indeed, TRANSIT avoids the use of the word “accident” because we believe there are no accidents … there are only recklessness, carelessness and negligence … all errors in judgment arising from choices made by human beings.]

Therefore, efforts were needed to ensure that drivers with such problems were treated as they drive for long periods of time, he added.

[TRANSIT: This is something that TRANSIT has been talking about for more than 5 years … that SPAD needs to restructure the bus industry (and the freight transport industry) to restore safety & dignity to both industries.]

“Sleep disorders, especially chronic insomnia and sleep apnea, may be among the causes of accidents and serious injuries as they can fall asleep during the day and while driving which is extremely dangerous to them and their passengers,” he said.

[TRANSIT: And when you combine sleepy bus drivers with unsafe buses and unsafe roads, you have a recipe for destruction – one of the reasons why there have been so many deaths on Malaysian roads, year after year.]

Muhammad Muhsin said, as a first step, health checkups should be made compulsory for bus and lorry drivers to determine whether they have any form of sleep disorder.

[TRANSIT: Something we’ve recommended to SPAD, MIROS and JKJR around 2-3 years ago.]

“Those with sleep apnea or any severe form of sleeping disorder need to be treated first before they can resume driving,” he added.

He said a study by a Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) lecturer, who is also a member of the SDSM, revealed that more than seven percent of Malaysians suffered from sleep disorders.

“However, we believe there are many who do not consult specialists or seek treatment thinking it is a minor problem,” said Muhammad Muhsin.

He added that sleep disorders not only affected productivity and the economy, but also caused weight gain, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attacks and blocked airways. – Bernama


More and more, medical experts are becoming aware of the importance of sleep for individual health. Indeed, good sleep helps the body recover, improves the mood, and ensures a strong immune system, which helps prevent disease and other ailments. Hence, the better our sleep, the healthier our bodies and the better the effect on society.

Unfortunately, Malaysian society has developed into one where good sleep is not valued by many. Our stores open early and close late and 24 hour restaurants can be found everywhere, not just in urban areas.

To make things worse, our lack of investment in transportation and the encouraging of urban sprawl have combined to make Malaysians even more sleep deprived. The average one-way commuting time in the Klang Valley is now 70 minutes … and the more time that we spend in commuting, the less time we have for family … and for ourselves.

The residents of Subang Jaya probably know the most about this. Because of poor town planning and limited transportation infrastructure, Subang Jaya & USJ residents wake up extra early and come home extra late. One has to wonder what the infamous Subang Jaya jams (now found in Sunway, USJ, and Puchong) are doing to the health of people living in those areas.

Consider the lost time sleeping, less time with family, more stress, air pollution from slow-moving cars stuck in stop-and-go traffic, and their effect on the human body. Then combine that with other stresses of a fast-paced life, concerns about security (less time at home means more opportunity for break-ins), financial pressures (must own, operate and maintain 2-3 cars), etc. etc. etc. the case becomes clearer.

We at TRANSIT can only comment on the smaller issues, but we want our readers to understand the connections and links between our lifestyles and our individual health and that of our society.

And we want our readers to help us. Talk to your MPs and ADUNs and SPAD and tell them how important it is to have safe, healthy bus drivers. It’s time to bring some dignity back to public transport. We hope that this will be the first step to bringing better health back into our society and into our lives.

4 replies on “30% of Malaysian bus drivers suffer from sleep disorders, says survey”

Being a bus operator myself, I totally agree that bus drivers can be very prone to sleep disorders that could be because of personal health issues and bad sleeping habits.

But also, the management of the bus company has a very VITAL role to play. The management is responsible for the welfare and work schedule (hence rest schedule) of the drivers. This whole field of “fatigue management” or rather “rest management” must be looked into more carefully by the relevant authorities of JPJ, MIROS and SPAD. There needs for a more in depth understanding of the real ground conditions of bus drivers, without which policies implemented may be counter-productive or just for show.

A case in point: All buses travelling more than 350km in a single journey needs 2 drivers. The idea here is “The extra driver ensures a safer the journey” On the surface, it seems logical. But what is really happening on the ground is quite different. It may not result in safer buses on the road. Take all the express bus accidents that took place for the past 2 years. Most of them had 2 drivers on the bus.

What is the reason behind this?

By hiring 2 drivers, most company wants to make full economic use of the drivers. They are , afterall , paying for the extra head count. Imagine a bus company hiring 2 drivers for a day’s trip. After the stipulated 10 hours duty cycle, they would have to rest the drivers, and hence the bus as well. The rest of the 14 hours rest would be a very costly down time of the bus and 2 drivers for the company because they need to pay a minimum wage per month to maintain the 2 bus drivers and the downpayment for the bus. Hence , numerous companies extend the duty cycle to typically 16 hours or more, thinking that drivers can sleep and rest on the bus alternately, whilst maximising the use of the bus and drivers. Whilst the bus can take the workload, the 2 drivers cannot sustain such an act month after month.

In fact this practice of having 2 drivers on 1 bus is unheard of in Europe and Autralia. The policy makers there stipulate that it is impossible to get full rest on a moving vehicle . This is confirmed by my many encounters with my drivers who were ex- employees of other companies with such a system. They simply DO NOT feel rested even sleeping for the entire journey on the bus. This is indeed FALSE ECONOMY. 2 drivers may not necessarily mean more alert drivers and does not mean safer buses and goes against the grain of human physiology.

The lack of quality bus drivers in Malaysia also forces bus companies who wants to comply with this 2 driver rule to employ 2 drivers and even compromise the quality of drivers. Drivers of suspect character or sub-skilled drivers may take the steering wheel of a fully loaded bus.


Fatigue management is both an art and a science. There is no hard and fast rule about how many hours of sleep is enough for a driver. Some require 5 hours, some 8 hours. There are many other factors that count towards eliminating fatigue.

Some factors are:

1) Environment – sleeping quarters are important (eg many bus drivers sleep on the bus overnight as opposed to proper hostel facilities) and working environment is also important, the vehicle itself can contribute to fatigue in many ways. The people and culture of the company is also a key part of forming a pleasant environment.

2) Job duties – On the road duties is typically driving and fatigue management techniques require a clocking in of driving hours, which is easy to measure. However, Off the road duties like bus cleaning, carrying objects, after work activities also make a crucial factor that can contribute to fatigue. These factors greatly contribute to the fatugue level of a driver that is not seen by authorities.

3) Stress – Bus drivers can experience stress from many sources, including personal and /or financial reasons, and even relationship with the management. They are indeed a group of workers that need to be closely monitored by the management as they spend most of the time on the road, and any personal or health issues will not be easily detected by the management.

There is no way a government agency can enforce such intricacies that are involved in fatigue management. It needs self-enforcement by bus operators.

Hence, fatigue management cannot be as simplistic, cut and dry policy by the government. We need to educate and encourage all bus operators to be self – governed and responsible. That is the highest level of enforcement.

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