In awarding damages to M. Parimala, 35, the widow of fireman R. Selappan, the judge held PLUS liable for the accident at 138.5 km of the highway at 8 p.m. on Nov. 6, 1991.
The judge said that a contract was struck between the road user and the highway authority the moment a ticket was extracted at the toll gate and that PLUS was fully aware that the fencing along the highway was damaged and that animals like cows and buffalo strayed onto the highway, posing a danger to road users.
Although this is a landmark decision as a test case on the responsibility and standard of care of PLUS with regard to the North-South Expressway, it must be a very bitter victory for the widow, Parimala, for no amount of monetary damages could restore the life of her husband.
As a immediate follow-up to the High Court judgement, the Works Minister, Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu had asked PLUS to study wherther fencing should be erected along the North-South Expressway between Jitra and Bukit Kayu Hitam.
This is not good enough. What the Works Minister should do is to set up a committee, comprising both officials from his Ministry as well as members of the public, including Members of Parliament, to inquire how many deaths on the North-South Expressway had been caused by stray cattle since its inception as well as other failures by PLUS to exercise the necessary standard of care to protect the lives and ensure safety of motorists.
Recently, the UMNO MP for Pokok Sena, YB Wan Hanafiah Wan Mat Saman, had a very bad accident on the North-South Expressway when on his way home to Kedah from Kuala Lumpur as a result of very poor maintenance conditions on the expressway.
This Committee, which could be named the North-South Highway Expressway Supervision Committee, should identify the various dangers on the expressway which pose a hazard to the life and limb of motorists, as well the cause of great inconvenience to the motoring public, which is also one of the terms of contract undertaken by PLUS to provide a "fast, safe and comfortable" journey!
The Committee should be a standing committee to invite public views and suggestions to monitor the conditions on the North-South Expressway and to periodically report on the areas of neglect by PLUS to make the North-South Expressway a "fast, safe and comfortable journey" for all motorists.
A few months ago, as a result of a public outcry about the conditions of the expressway following a major road disaster causing many fatalities, the Works Ministry had proposed that PLUS should light up the expressway. However, PLUS demanded an increase of toll rate to implement the proposal.
This is also unacceptable. The North-South Expressway Supervision Committee should examine the contract for the expressway to consider how PLUS could be made to be a responsible and conscientious concessionaire of the expressway and to bear full responsibility for the safety and comfort for all motorists.
For a start, let the Works Minister make public the North-South Expressway contract so that the motoring public know their rights when they pay toll and use the expressway.