Up 30% of coach crashes are linked to driver fatigue seriously compromising the safety of everyone.
How does BUSK know this?
A European Commission Report has recognised driver fatigue in up to 30% of coach crashes. The figure is likely to be much higher but some drivers are understandably reluctant to admit that they fell asleep at the wheel or were not as alert as they should have been. Most of these crashes happen on motorways and during overnight driving. The return journey to the UK is very often made through the night and on motorways. Thousands of coach drivers have contacted BUSK to warn that they struggle to stay alert. They have asked BUSK to campaign on their behalf. There is most certainly a serious safety breach that allows two coach drivers to share a 21-hour drive back to the UK and by the time they finish this shift, they will have been awake for more than 30 hours.
Many really good tour companies do look after passengers and drivers, however, those that don’t are putting pupils, teachers and drivers at risk. You can tell who these tour companies are. They are the ones that are not bothered at drivers sharing rooms, sometimes with as many as six per room, even when the drivers do not know one another. Could you get a good night’s sleep in an overcrowded room full of strangers? There will no doubt be those that snore loudly or have night time bathroom habits that disturb others. Those that want the watch television or listen to the radio or play computer games while others will just want to turn in as their next shift is an early morning start.
Then there is the issue of privacy and dignity amounting to a lack of respect for the important role drivers play. A room of their own helps them get a good night’s sleep. A good tour company will make sure that happens. Accommodated away from entertainment areas of a hotel or above hot noisy kitchens is important. A room at the end of a corridor on the top floor is ideal and to the same standard as the rest of the party. This means the room must have an en-suite and not be the size of a shoe cupboard. Drivers are not asking for The Ritz - a Travel Lodge would be ideal.
On the last day of the trip, if the party are going to be travelling overnight which many do, the tour company must provide drivers with a day bed in a quiet place so rest and sleep ahead of the 21-hour drive back to the UK. We hear of drivers having to fight for a day bed because the tour company they are working for will have cut corners and not met their legal obligations by providing one. It is wrong but it is happening to some drivers and will continue to happen unless more parents and the general public are aware of the situation leading to these safety breaches. Teachers, school governors, management teams and local authority (library boards in Northern Ireland) - you need to act now. Monmouthshire County Council already has with significant changes in how Monmouthshire state schools book a tour company. They must get in writing, how drivers will be accommodated prior to booking the trip.
If one local authority can do this, they call can.
Hirers, remember, a tour company booking accommodation is required in law, to ensure that it is suitable for the driver to get to sleep. It is also a legal requirement to provide a day bed ahead of an overnight drive. Teachers/schools, in particular, on school trips should understand this and ensure it happens. In case teachers are reading this and think it is not their responsibility, then they are wrong. All teachers on trips abroad and in the UK should be risk assessing if the driver/s are fit to drive and if they have slept adequately in the same way that they would question if a driver was fit to drive if they saw them drinking heavily in the hotel bar the night before a morning trip.
The same rules apply when drivers are required to drive for several hours in their car before they arrive at Dover to board the ferry and take over the coach they will be driving abroad. They will need to sleep on the ferry crossing but again, many find that they are forced to share a cabin with three other drivers who could be other PSV or HGV drivers. Ferry cabins are tiny and four people shoe horned into one is not suitable. Any tour company doing this is failing to discharge their duty of care. We even hear about female coach drivers being expected to share cabins with male drivers they have never met before. Would you find this acceptable if you had to do this?
Adventure Activity Holiday
Great and exciting holidays for children and young people. They may camp and rough it to some degree but then, that is part of what the holiday adventure is all about, so if they sleep in a tent, great! But drivers are not on holiday. They are working. However, at some sites they are expected to sleep in a tent too or a caravan.
Why is this a problem? Put simply, drivers are professionals who have the safety of the entire party literally in their hand. They need a good night’s sleep to function properly and drive safely. It is not always about how long they sleep but critically, the quality of sleep. Interestingly, tired drivers have been reported as being more dangerous than drink drivers.
Drivers also report that they are shocked to find that they are expected to share the shower and toilet block facilities with the children at some sites. We hear of individual shower cubicles that do not have full doors, stopping at the knee and shoulder. These blocks are not supervised by a responsible adult and again, drivers are not on holiday, they are working. They need proper accommodation with an en-suite so there is no risk of them coming face to face with a child when they are in a bath robe. They simply want to protect themselves, not be placed in any compromising situations and at the same time ensure safeguarding procedures are in place to protect the children. Certainly some of these sites do not meet the safeguarding requirements of local authorities in the UK. If you are a parent or carer reading this take note!
If you knew your child was going to be sharing a shower block with drivers under these circumstances and that it was not supervised would you be happy? BUSK is campaigning for drivers to be booked into a B & B if the site cannot provide suitable accommodation that includes en-suite facilities. It all comes down to money but, parents and carers often are paying up to or more than £1,000 for the trip and they may be surprised to learn that for less than £10 extra, drivers could have a single room with en-suite in a quiet place along with a day bed when necessary. We are certain that you will welcome us bringing these matters to your attention because if BUSK did not do this, the rogue element within the tour company industry certainly won't, nor will they make any changes.
Parents and carers, when you look at a tour companies glossy magazine or website, you will hopefully be better informed and get written proof from your child's school that the coach drivers allocated to your child's school trip will be catered for properly and that each time they begin a journey they are wide awake.
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