Transport Malta says that last April’s sightseeing bus accident, in which two tourists died when the vehicle hit a tree, was solely due to the driver’s negligence.

Replying to accusations levelled against it in a judicial protest filed by the bus owners, the transport watchdog said it carried no responsibility. Among other things, the bus operators had said that Transport Malta failed to observe its own regulations to keep roads safe.

In its counter protest, filed by lawyer Edward Gatt, Transport Malta said that what caused the fatal accident was negligence by the driver and his failure to observe traffic rules.

It said the driver did not maintain the required distance from the pavement, went over the road shoulder lines and drove the bus in the direction of the tree, causing the incident.

Insisting it always observed road safety rules, the regulator said investigations carried out using a similar bus on the same route of the accident showed it was the driver who caused the accident by driving the bus in a careless manner.

Rejecting any responsibility for what happened, Transport Malta said it suspected that the only reason behind the judicial protest was for the bus operators to try to avoid “substantial economic considerations” the company might face due to the tragic accident.

A Belgian man, 62, and a Spanish woman, 37, died and about 50 passengers on the bus where injured, some badly, in the accident.

City Sightseeing Malta is blaming Transport Malta for the accident. It listed laws, EU directives and guidelines issued by Transport Malta and international road safety organisations which, it argued, were not observed by the transport regulator.

The company lawyer, Alessia Zammit McKeon, said the regulator failed to conduct regular inspections on the routes licensed and ensure they were safe and free from any obstacles, including protruding trees.

Transport Malta was bound by a 2011 EU directive to conduct regular safety road audits on arterial and distributary roads, the bus operators said.

Incidentally, a day after the Times of Malta carried a report on the judicial protest, a legal notice on ‘New roads and roadworks regulations’ appeared in The Malta Government Gazette. Infrastructure Malta was given the responsibility to hold regular road safety audits and to observe strict safety rules on the road network as stipulated by local and EU regulations.

Questions sent to the police on their investigations and whether they planned any arraignments were not replied by the time of writing.