The Nightcap campaign can reveal that up to 30% of coach crashes are linked to driver fatigue. This seriously compromises the safety of pupils, teachers and drivers on long-haul school trips and for other trips undertaken by adults.
How does BUSK know this?
A European Commission Report links driver fatigue in up to 30% of coach crashes, with the figure likely to be much higher. Some drivers are understandably reluctant to admit that they fell asleep at the wheel or were not alert as they should have been. Most of these crashes happen on motorways and during overnight driving. On school trips abroad, 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. Both drivers normally stay awake so they can talk to one another to help them both stay awake.
There are many really good tour companies that look after passengers and drivers, however, some of the biggest and well known names are consistently putting pupils, teachers, other adult parties and drivers at risk. You can tell who they are. They are the ones that insist that drivers share rooms, sometimes with as many as six per room, even when the drivers do not know one another. Could you get a good nights 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 lack of privacy and dignity and a lack of respect for the important role the driver plays. Drivers need to have a room of their own to get a good nights sleep. A good tour company will make sure that happens. This means the room needs to be away from entertainment areas of a hotel or above hot noisy kitchens. A room at the end of a corridor on the top floor is ideal. A room to the same standard as the rest of the party is also important. This means the room must have an en-suite and not be the size of a shoe cupboard. As an example of suitable accommodation is a Travel Lodge or Premier Inn room.
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 quite place so they can get some 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 obligations by providing one. It is wrong but it is happening and will continue to happen unless more parents and the general public are aware of the situation and safety breaches invovled.
No-one wants to stop these trips but, BUSK does want to stop the tour companies that do not follow, not only, best practice, but do not meet the legal requirements placed upon them. Let us be clear on this. 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 on school trips and the travelling public should understand this and ensure it happens. It is called risk assessing the situation and, in case teachers reading this that 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 have slept adequately in the same way that they would question if a driver was fit to drive if they saw him or her 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.
Adventure Activity Holidays
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, 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.
Why is this a problem? It is very simple. Drivers are professionals and they need a good nights sleep to function properly and drive safely and it is not about how long they sleep but critically, the quality of sleep that is an issue.
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 proper 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 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, if you are a parent reading this and paying up to or more than £1,000 for the trip you may be surprised to learn that for less than £10 to the overall cost of the trip, 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 wont! Nor will they make any changes. 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.
For more information contact us on 01495 981185 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please note: BUSK is currently setting up BUSK Approved for those tour companies that want to be listed on our website because these tour operators promise to provide single room accommodation to an acceptable standard that will allow coach drivers to rest and sleep properly. They also will provide a day bed when required. See BUSK Approved page on this site for more details and please remember, it is a new scheme and the page is still under construction.