The Director and Founder of BUSK (Belt Up School Kids) has called on coach operators to support a new drive for safety around school-owned minibuses.
Thirty years after the Warwickshire motorway crash in which 12 children and the teacher who was driving the minibus died, campaigner Pat Harris is pushing for schools who use such vehicles to transport students to either obtain an O-Licence or use a licenced coach operator.
Liz and Steve Fitzgerald, who lost their daughter Claire in the M40 crash on 18 November 1993, are leading the latest call for the government to remove section-19 exemptions that allow school teachers to drive minibuses without a PCV licence.
Their “Teachers Teach, Drivers Drive” campaign is being supported by teachers’ union NASUWT and Ms Harris, who believes the coach industry could do more to assist.
She says: “The difficulty is shown by one coach operator I spoke to recently who said, ‘I’m right behind this but we don’t want to upset the schools that we’ve got contracts with who already have their own fleet of minibuses and are doing it under section 19 because they might not give us the work.'”
She adds: “But I think there comes a time when the coach industry needs to decide whether or not it’s going to stand up with BUSK and the Fitzgerald family and publicly say there’s a two-tier system:
“One is as safe as you can get it because it has to comply with all the regulations and then we have a low standard of safety – no medical checks required, no eyesight tests, no checking of the drivers for points on their licence.”
She feels that coach operators could also do more privately and locally to raise support, adding: “I would like to ask all your readers who are coach companies and bus companies, if they are parents as well, do they want their children being driven by a teacher who is not trained?
“If the answer is ‘no’ then can they not draw attention to the campaign? Could they each contact, say five, parents that they know who aren’t coach operators to make them aware?”
Mr and Mrs Fitzgerald’s call to action follows a similar campaign five years ago to try to ensure all school transport is held to the same standard as that provided by professional coach operators.
Ms Harris has highlighted that some schools obtain an O-Licence and are subject to the appropriate regulations. She says: “I’m referring to private schools because they charge extra to cover those costs and I don’t know of any parents who would refuse to pay the extra costs if they knew the importance of paying it, if they understood the difference between the two different types of operation.”
She is particularly trying to raise the awareness among parents in order that they exact better standards from their children’s schools.