Before taking students on a long haul trip such as skiing, remember that hiring the coach can often be taken out of the school’s hands because most schools will book a trip using a tour operator, but please do not think this absolves you of responsibility. A tour operator takes care of everything from hiring coaches, booking ferry crossings, booking accommodation and even some of the activities and of course that’s exactly what you’d expect, but beware of “good deals” because although some tour companies can and do offer cheaper rates to get your business, it’s worth asking yourself how they do this because sometimes it’s by compromising the safety of the entire party by forcing coach drivers to share rooms. That might not seem much of an issue, but in our experience it very much is. Up to 30% of coach crashes are linked to driver fatigue and sadly, the outcome of that has been fatalities and serious life changing injuries sustained by both pupils and teachers. Many drivers feel compromised into driving whilst tired. BUSK is fully aware of this because literally thousands of drivers have contacted us asking for help, saying they struggle to keep alert as a result of disturbed sleep due to having to share a room with a co-driver that snores. That’s something that is both reasonably foreseeable and completely avoidable.
It’s also well worth enquiring where the drivers will be accommodated as it’s sometimes how tour companies make savings by booking drivers into the worst rooms above hot or noisy kitchens or noisy entertainment areas giving the driver very little opportunity of proper rest. Ideally drivers should be booked into the top floor of a hotel at the far end of the corridor in a quiet room and away from pupils. Putting drivers into shared rooms is how the tour company can save money – but the real cost could be tragic and by just asking a few simple questions of the tour operator, you could prevent it. BUSK carried out an exercise using the calculations of a tour company that does book drivers into rooms of their own to the same standard as the party they are driving. They explained to BUSK that it should not cost more than £6.75 extra per student. Parents and carers are already prepared to pay hundreds of pounds for the trip. Would this small additional cost be refused by them especially if they understand the safety implications of drivers sharing rooms or are they simply unaware of this issue because the school has not asked them?
Remember too, that on ferry crossings drivers need a single cabin so they can get some much needed sleep and if driving through the night on the return journey back to the UK, drivers are legally required to be provided with a day bed. Again, BUSK asked a tour company to calculate this cost that would be passed to parents and carers. It came out at less than £5 per head. A sobering thought…at the end of driving through the night shift, on a two-manned coach, the drivers will have been awake for almost 30 hours yet BUSK has seen very few school risk assessments that covers this issue and addresses it by avoiding overnight travel. Something to think about.
Teachers and leaders on these trips should take reasonable steps to ensure the drivers are refreshed each time they get behind the wheel and if they have witnessed drivers drinking alcohol, the evening before for example, they should be wary of agreeing to let them drive the party the following morning. Having just read this, these things may sound simple and obvious, but the sad reality is that they’re often overlooked because those responsible are simply not aware of those risks – and that’s exactly what Michael Imperato, solicitor on our home page, is referring to when he says a that a school and governing body has to take seriously, its legal duties of care in respect of transport of pupils and staff.
There are also some first class examples of good practice which can be shared such as Monmouthshire County Council as one local authority that instructed all its schools to destroy the risk assessment they were using and they replaced it with one that included risk assessing the drivers and how they were accommodated. Monmouthshire schools now have to ask tour companies about driver accommodation to ensure it is suitable and up to the same standards as the rest of the party. They do not allow drivers to be put into tents or caravans either at any adventure holiday campsites. If this local authority can do this, why not all? That’s exactly the sort of simple and entirely reasonable question someone might find very difficult to answer in a court of law.