Double-decker accident leads to licence cut for Stagecoach Devon

Accident involving Stagecoach Devon bus leads to licence cut
Credit: Geof Shepard

An accident involving a double-decker bus driven by a 19-year-old driver, injuring 37 passengers, 10 seriously, has led to the licence held by Stagecoach Devon, trading as Stagecoach South West, being cut from 475 to 427 vehicles by Traffic Commissioner (TC) Kevin Rooney.

The TC also imposed a condition on the licence that: “No driver under the age of 21 will be used on a service of over 50km regardless of how that service is registered.”

The TC said that the double-deck bus left the road and came to a stop in a field on its side. The driver of the vehicle was a Kameron Allan. He was not a regular driver, and he was only 19 years old at the time.

The route in question was in excess of 50km and drivers under 21 were disqualified from driving routes in-service of that length. However, the route had been registered as a split service to avoid the need to comply with the EU drivers’ hours and tachograph rules following an indication from the Department of Transport in 2008 that such an approach was acceptable in that context.

Mr Allan was charged with 10 offences of causing serious injury through dangerous driving but those charges were dropped at court and Mr Allan was convicted in July 2021 of one single offence of careless driving. That conviction was not notified in the required 28 days. The explanation that the Transport Manager (TM) was unaware of that requirement was unacceptable, TC Rooney found.

For Mr Allan, Hannah Webb said that he had been new in his driving career having undertaken only about 25 hours of driving at that point. There had been shortcomings in the training and mentorship. Standard practice had not been followed. In relation to the incident itself, the road was narrow and had had a number of incidents upon it. There was no crash barrier. Mr Allan’s coat-hook was behind him and next to the window. It was reasonable for Mr Allan to have opened that window. It was accepted that the coat should have been further secured.

Mr Allan lost control of the bus when he tried to retrieve the coat when it blew out of the window. He had not received vehicle-specific training nor local support. He had not had familiarisation training for the route. The crash was a culmination of deeply unfortunate circumstances. Mr Allan was now employed by Lothian Buses. He would go through its normal driver training program afresh and be provided with mentorship.

Mr Allan said that he had known that he could only drive routes up to 50 km but also knew that the Gold route had been registered as a split service.

The TC said that the core facts relating to the collision on 5 October 2019 were uncontroversial. There was a driver shortage at the Torquay depot caused by industrial action. It was established practice for the company to draw upon a pool of “non-regular” drivers to cover shortages. These tended to be managers or inspectors. Such a practice was entirely normal.

Mr Allan was a bus enthusiast who was keen to gain his PCV entitlement at the earliest opportunity. He was also keen to carry out driving activities to gain experience for his future career in the industry. He had passed his PCV test in July 2019 and had driven around 25 hours in a bus thereafter including a double-decker. Because of his unusual status in the business, as Commercial Assistant, he returned to his day-job upon acquiring the PCV entitlement. He was not provided with the usual extensive support and mentoring which applied to full-time drivers. A conversation took place between Mr Allan and Richard Scant, Torquay Depot Manager, the result of which was that Mr Allan was allocated the Stagecoach Gold service on 5 October 2019.

The Stagecoach Gold service from Torquay to Plymouth was advertised as a single service although registered as two connecting services, Torquay to Totnes and Totnes to Plymouth. The vehicle was the same. The driver was the same. The service retained the same name. There was a two-minute layover in Totnes. Any suggestion that it was two separate routes was “pure fiction,” the TC said. Stagecoach had revealed the way that it was advertised in 2019.

The matter was muddied somewhat by a letter from the Department for Transport to the Confederation of Passenger Transport in 2008. The background to that letter was that the drivers´ hours rules changed in 2006. Prior to that, regular services over 50km could enjoy an exemption from the fitting of tachographs by maintaining timetables and duty rosters. From 2006, the requirement for such longer services became for a tachograph to be fitted.

That caused significant operational challenges for bus operators, who lobbied the Department for Transport for some flexibility. The result was the letter. While that letter appeared to fly in the face of the established case law, it was a statement of the then government’s position. In that respect, it was reasonable that an operator had regard to it. It was explicit in that it referred to the drivers’ hours rules. At no point was the age of a driver taken into account.

He concluded by reference to the legal authorities that the Stagecoach Torquay to Plymouth Gold service was a single service. It should therefore be operated with a driver over the age of 21. Stagecoach was a significant transport operation and had within its resources the ability to check the law rather than rely on an official’s letter relating to a different and very specific potential regulatory burden.

Stagecoach Devon had sophisticated systems in place for training new drivers. The processes with respect to new full-time drivers appeared to be impressive. There was initial training followed by vehicle and route coaching, all supported by mentoring. It was accepted by both former TMs that those processes did not apply to Mr Allan given his unusual circumstances. Both former TMs, one of whom had been the Managing Director at the time, accepted that mistakes had been made and that Mr Allan should not have been driving that bus that day. It appeared that there was pressure to deal with a driver shortage, so corners were cut. Commercial considerations overtook safety.

It was deeply unfortunate that Stagecoach failed to provide relevant witnesses. The two statutory Directors who were in post in 2019 failed to attend. The statutory Director who did attend could not assist. The manager responsible for the decision-making was not put forward. He had not seen the company’s internal investigations and, despite requested, risk-assessments had not been produced. Stagecoach had been less helpful than it could have been.

The situation which allowed Mr Allan to be driving was negligent and was likely to have increased significantly the road safety risk. The TC balanced that with the strong systems in relation to maintenance of vehicles and the mainstream drivers.