A bus driver who caused the deaths of 17 people in a horror road crash in Dubai has been jailed for seven years and ordered to pay Dh3.4 million in compensation to the families of the victims.
The 53-year-old, from Oman, was travelling at more than double the speed limit when his vehicle struck an overhead height restriction barrier.
The tragedy, in which another 13 people were also injured, took place on June 6 as passengers returned to the UAE from the Omani capital of Muscat.
The driver admitted causing wrongful death at a hearing at Dubai Traffic Court earlier this month.
The defendant said at a previous hearing that the brightness of the sun had hampered his vision.
“I admit to my mistake but the sun was too bright,” the bus driver, told the court. “It was shining into my eyes so I pulled down a small curtain.”
The driver was handed a seven-year prison term, ordered to pay Dh200,000 in blood money to each of the victims' families and a fine of Dh50,000 at a court hearing on Thursday morning.
His licence was suspended for one year and he will be deported after serving the term.
The court heard that monitoring technology installed in the vehicle showed he was driving at 94 kilometres per hour - on a road with a posted speed limit of 40kph with an additional 20kph buffer - when he smashed into the barrier.
The driver missed a number of warning signs notifying motorists about the barrier, it was said in a verdict statement seen by The National.
“The technical analysis report of footage obtained from the bus’s digital video recording (DVR) - similar to black boxes in airplanes - clearly indicated that the defendant was driving at a speed of 94 kilometers per hour, which is higher than the street’s speed limit,” the statement said.
A report delivered to the court found the road in question was in compliance with international guidelines.
The bus driver's son, Samir Saeed Al Bloushi, 30, was present during court proceedings and said the verdict was a devastating blow to the family.
“My father is a diabetic who has heart and blood pressure problems. He’s a provider for a family of 10 individuals,” said Mr Al Bloushi.
“Our family was disheartened with the thought of him being imprisoned for six months, how are we to live with the fact that he will be jailed for seven years.”
He said the family plan to appeal the sentence.
At a hearing held earlier this week, a lawyer representing the driver blamed traffic authorities for wrongly positioning the overhead height restriction barrier.
Mohammed Saif Al Tamimi said the siting of the bar struck by the bus was in violation of Gulf Cooperation Council standards.
Seventeen people died and 13 were injured when the vehicle first hit a height restriction chain before smashing into an additional, solid-steel barrier last month.
The impact of the collision was so severe that it tore a metre-tall gash right down the length of the 30-seater bus.
“Guidelines state that in a 60kph street, the distance between a height restriction chain and an overhead height restriction barrier should be 60 metres,” Mr Al Tamimi told Dubai Traffic Court.
The solid barrier cut through the bus at seat height striking and killing many of the passengers on board.
“[But] on the street where the accident happened, the distance was only 12 metres.
“Removing one’s foot between the acceleration and brake pedals would eat up the 12 metres and leave any driver incapable of coming to a complete stop.
“According to international and GCC standards, such barriers should not be made of solid steel to avoid [this type of] catastrophe.”
Mohammed Al Saberi, a second lawyer representing the bus driver, said during the earlier hearing that a report prepared by the company running the bus service had found Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority was at fault in eight separate areas relating to the crash.
The devastating crash happened at the Al Rashidiya exit just off Mohamed bin Zayed Road in Dubai at about 5.40pm on June 6.
On board were 30 passengers returning to the Emirates from Muscat, Oman’s capital, following the Eid Al Fitr holiday.
Victims included 12 Indian nationals, two Pakistanis, one Irish woman and one passenger each from Oman and the Philippines.
Fifteen of the passengers are understood to have been killed on impact while two more died in hospital the same day.
Salah Bu Farousha Al Felasi, director of traffic prosecution, said the verdict will send out a vital message to drivers to ensure they adhere to traffic regulations.
He said a second driver on the bus also died in the accident.
Mr Al Felasi said sufficient warning signs were in place.
"UAE roads are in compliance with high international standards especially in Dubai and RTA had placed many warning signboards," he said.
The prosecutor said arrangements are being made with the bus operator's insurance company to ensure the blood money payment is made to the court and delivered to the victims.
The RTA declined to comment when approached by The National following the verdict.