The Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry plans to swiftly issue a business suspension order if it sees “malicious” violations of the road transport law by truck, bus or taxi operators that allow drivers to drink and drive or have forced them to work too many hours, ministry sources said Thursday.

The ministry intends to tighten the regulations on the operators as early as summer, aiming to raise their awareness of safety, help improve management of drivers and prevent accidents.

Currently, the ministry can issue a business suspension order to transport companies after their cumulative penalty points for violations reach a certain level. In a departure from the current scheme, the ministry plans to issue such an order immediately if irregularities are confirmed upon inspections or reports from other organizations, including the labor ministry and police.

The sources said the transport ministry is determined to tighten penalties on transport firms because of an increasing number of accidents whose main causes are blamed on their drivers.

Trucks, buses or taxis were blamed for 68,000 traffic accidents in 2004, representing a 40 percent rise in 10 years.

In February, a tanker truck rear-ended a vehicle pileup in Kyoto Prefecture, claiming three lives and injuring seven people. The tanker driver’s employer was charged with violating the road transport law for allegedly ordering the driver to continue working even though he was extremely fatigued due to long work hours. The driver also was charged with negligence.

In April, police searched the offices of 12 trucking firms in nine western prefectures over allegations that they let their drivers drink and drive.

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