Bus drivers are working unsafe hours – leaving the public at risk
Two people lost their lives when a bus crashed into a shop in Coventry. Our laws around the working hours of bus drivers are clearly not keeping the public safe, writes Matt Western
On Wednesday I’m presenting a Bill that seeks to limit the driving hours worked by bus drivers on local routes. If implemented, I hope it will go some way to preventing a repeat of the kind of tragedy suffered in the West Midlands in 2015.
In October of that year, a bus crashed into a shop in Coventry City. The crash killed seven-year-old Rowan Fitzgerald from my constituency of Warwick & Leamington, as well as 76-year-old Dora Hancox from Nuneaton. Were it not for the brave actions of a local man who warned shoppers about the path of the bus, many more would have been killed or seriously injured.
What is most concerning is that there was an absolute inevitability that such a tragedy would happen. The then 77-year-old driver had been involved in four crashes in three years. He was assessed by the company’s driving school just seven months before the crash, who said he wouldn’t have even passed an initial driving test. Controllers were told to limit his shifts to just a few hours per week. Despite all this, the bus company still let the driver work an irresponsibly high number of hours leading up to the day of the crash, regularly working more than 60 hours a week.
Our laws around the working hours of bus drivers are clearly not keeping the public safe. The fact that the driver had been driving long hours leading up to the crash was undoubtedly the critical factor that led to this accident. However, this is presently entirely legal under British law, as local bus drivers are not subject to the same working hour regulations as long-distance bus drivers or lorry drivers.
The British laws which regulate bus drivers’ hours on local routes (of less than 50km) limit driving to 10 hours a day, with no weekly or fortnightly limit except that in any two consecutive weeks there must be at least one period of 24 hours off duty. This means it is entirely legal for a local bus driver to drive 130 hours over a period of two weeks. Under EU law however, a long-distance bus driver or lorry driver cannot drive more than 56 hours a week, or more than 90 hours over any two consecutive weeks.
I believe this tragedy could have been avoided, potentially, if driving hours for local bus drivers were capped at 56 hours a week, and no more than 90 hours over any two consecutive weeks, as it already is for long distance bus drivers and HGV drivers.
Therefore, my Ten-Minute Rule Bill being presented on Wednesday calls for these limitations to be placed into law.
Crucially, I have the support of Rowan’s family after meeting with them at the end of last year to discuss the proposals.
I hope to meet the Ministers at the Department of Transport to take the ideas in my Bill forward. I wrote to the Secretary of State for Transport in December requesting a meeting with myself and Rowan’s family, but unfortunately, the Minister who replied was uninterested and said: “There are no current plans to make changes to the legislation.” I hope the Department can be more open to these ideas over the coming weeks.
It is imperative that we do everything we can to help protect people using buses, as well as pedestrians in our town and city centres – two more lives cannot be lost the next time a bus driver is asked to work too many hours than is safe.