Pat Harris, Director and founder of BUSK
BUSK has been established since February 1993. The main purpose was to change the law so that all children in the UK would be provided with a three point lap and diagonal safety belt when they travelled in a minibus or coach on the school run and on school trips. BUSK mounted a national high profile campaign, successfully changing seat belt legislation after four years of very hard and dedicated campaigning. But seat belts were not the only issue BUSK wanted to change. Many local authorities overcrowded school buses by up to 50% extra pupils than the carrying capacity which did nothing to help drivers concentrate on the important task of driving safely on busy roads. This legalised overcrowding known as the ‘3 for 2’ rule and the fact that the only adult on board was often just a driver, were just some of the problems that made school bus journeys unsafe.
The name' BUSK' was made up from two words…’bus’ and ‘Usk’. Usk was a small market town in South Wales and Pat Harris lived just five miles outside the town on the edge of Wentwood National Park. Put together the name ‘BUSK’ was formed, ideally, because it also stood for Belt Up School Kids. During the first two years of campaigning, BUSK received thousands of letters from parents throughout the UK and even some from children, worried about their own safety and reports of bullying was also a serious problem. By now, BUSK was getting known around the world and linked up with other school bus safety groups in America and Australia.
UK bus giant First and BUSK
At one point BUSK clashed with UK bus giant, First when they tried to introduce the American yellow bus in specific areas of the country. Pat Harris publicly challenged the company on many occasions, pointing out that the specification of the yellow American bus had barely changed in almost a century and it failed to go anywhere near the higher safety standards of coaches currently in use on school services in the UK that met either British or European standards. She made sure that everyone knew that the Federal State standard First would quote as being the equivalent of European standards, was in fact, much, much lower. Although First mounted a high profile marketing campaign that described their yellow bus as the safest in the world, Pat Harris's factual evidence clearly supported her claim that First were being economical with the truth. During a national BBC interview in which she and First were debating the subject she challenged First and won the argument based on her factual exposure of exactly how the American bus was failing to meet the most basic of safety standards.
BBC Blue Peter safety poster competition
In 1994 BUSK persuaded Blue Peter to run her idea of a safety poster competition with a theme, ‘why are there no seat belts on my school bus’. She appeared on the programme, exlaining that strict regulations were in place for travelling livestock but when it came to children, no such regulations were in place. She launched the competition and astonishingly, more than 33,000 children aged between 5 and 15 years, took part, many with stories to tell about their experiences of their daily school run. Pat was one of the judges too and the winning poster with its slogan ‘Can’t You See That It’s a Sin… Make Them Strap Your Children In!’ was designed by an 11 year old Ben Sherwin from Cumbria. He told Blue Peter that his Nan always used to say what a sin it was that children were not strapped into their seats in cars so that was where he got his idea from. He was also involved in a car crash the year before and emergency services told his parents that his safety belt had saved his life. The winning poster was printed in A3 size and displayed at all Welcome Break services stations and on RAC sites for a period of four weeks to promote seat belt wearing.
The Ford Motor Company donated a minibus as the prize for Ben's school but due to the fact that it was fitted with lap belts, Pat refused to accept the prize or have the BUSK logo displayed on the side of the bus until Ford were in a position to carry out crash testing on a new design minibus that would be fitted with three point lap and diagonal belts. One year later, Ford presented Ben with his prize for his school and the Blue Peter and BUSK logo were emblazened up each side of the bus.
Pat took an expert in European Law with her when she met with Steve Norris, Roads Minister in 1996. Steve Norris had told Pat that his hands were tied making it impossible to act independently from Europe and introduce legislation for seat belts in coaches and minibuses. She knew this was not true and simply by taking the expert with her, who, did not even have to speak one word, Mr. Norris raised his hands and admitted that the UK could act independently. In 1996, Pat also travelled to Brussels to meet Neil Kinnock, Transport Commissioner and the Commissioner for Trade and Industry to press home her point about safety belts and the safety of children travelling by road. Around this time, Pat was also advised by the late Lord Clinton Davies who spoke up at a confernece organised by BUSK at the House of Commons, suggesting that BUSK look at Article 36 or the Treaty of Rome. Lord Clinton had listened to Pat Harris on a BBC interview and knew that this was the one piece from her missing jig saw that could bring about the changes she wanted.
Mike Nolan's support
From almost day one of BUSK’s existence, Mike Nolan, original member of Bucks Fizz has been involved, publicly supporting improved safety standards for children. Shortly after winning the Eurovision song contest, the group’s touring coach was involved in a horrific crash, with Mike’s life hanging in the balance. He was given the last rites twice and was not expected to pull through the serious head injuries sustained in the crash. Mike did not have a safety belt. Mike had to learn to walk and talk again after six long weeks in hospital, the first four he had remained in a coma.
When BUSK delivered its National Parliamentary Petition to Westminster in April 1994 calling for safety belts on coaches and minibuses, Mike was there too to hand over in person, the petition. He was joined by BUSK members from across the UK including the Isle of Wight and Northern Ireland. Pat had travelled from South Wales in a coach provided by Parry's International who, at that time, where the only coach company in the whole of the UK that she could find that had coaches fitted with safety belts. The outcome from the BUSK petition and all of the campaigning was a very welcomed and long awaited national seat belt consultation process amongst interested and relevant parties. BUSK set about seeking the expert advice it needed to support this process, from crash test experts, lawyers, the medical profession and engineering experts in vehicle body structures. In fact, Pat Harris became so familiar with all the technical complexities of retro-fitting belts into older vehicles and all the reasons why this was not a solution in terms of safety, that she was often asked by Roads Policing Units to accompany them on Operation Coachman and school transport road side checks because they valued her knowledge.
After four years of campaigning, seat belts became compulsory in 1997 in minibuses and all coaches built after 1988. Starting with just two point belts, it was not what BUSK had campaigned for but it was a start. BUSK knew it would only be a matter of time before three point belts would eventually be introduced. Today we see coaches travelling on our roads advertising they have safety belts!
Department of Transport
BUSK had its own full sized coach which was fitted with safety belts. At the time, the coach was sixteen years old, had just passed an MOT and had all the paperwork to confirm the seat belt fitment was legal and safe. Pat knew differently. She booked the coach into six different Vehicle Inspectorate Stations (now known as DVSA) to have the fitment inspected. So worried were the Department of Transport (DOT) in London that they rang Pat and asked if they could attend to observe the checks! This was exactly what she had wanted because prior to this exercise, she had warned the DOT that the Vehicle Inspectorate were not mechanical engineers and should not be tasked with checking seat belt retro fitting but they would not listen. Now they wanted to not only listen, but attend the checks in person. They had to agree that she did know what she was talking about and they could now see first hand that many of the 'faulty' fitments were missed becasue the Vehicle Inspectorate were not trained adequately to make the checks that only a seat belt expert or mechanical engineer should make. She was getting her message across that if the manfuacturer of a vehicle refused to retro fit belts into one of their own vehicles, there was a very good reason for this.
BUSK has also been called to give evidence to the School Transport Committee at the House of Commons, at the National Assembly for Wales for its Learner Travel Measures and took part in a European Study into the safety of children in transit following a meeting with Neil Kinnock the then Transport Commissioner. In more recent years BUSK has been invited to attend Stormont in Belfast twice, to give expert advice on improving safety standards on school transport to the First Minister and other relevant bodies.
Over the years BUSK has written many transport policy documents for schools and hand books for the industry and produced resource materials for use in schools and by the bus and coach industry. It was BUSK that first introduced emergency evacuation drills of buses and coaches as far back as 1994. Now it is common to see transport operators using this type of training as part of the CPC course work for drivers.
In February 2013 BUSK launched Benchmark, the UK’s first and only completely independent star rating for the minibus and coach industry based on safety and legal compliance. In fact, the most recent national guidance for hiring a coach recommends using a Benchmark member. Schools, parents and the general public can now identify Benchmark members by the distinctive logo with green stars displayed on their fleet. Travelling with a Benchmark member means they will have been checked to ensure they meet BUSK’s high safety standards which is higher than the minimum legal requirements.
BUSK Approved was introduced to promote tour companies that provide single room accommodation for coach drivers on long haul trips to the same standard as the rest of the party and single cabins on ferry crossings. This is important so drivers are properly rested and are alert each time they get behind the wheel.