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Bus drivers’ working hours can be the difference between life and death

3 min read

Labour MP Matt Western writes ahead of his parliamentary debate on ‘Local bus drivers' working hours’ which he says is “in the interests of public, passenger and driver safety”.

Fatigue on the roads is of concern to us all. It could impact our friends, our family, and acts indiscriminately. The tragic situation of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and encountering a driver who is too tired to be on the roads has the potential to be fatal – particularly if driving is their job and they work incredibly long hours.

The needless death of a seven-year-old boy from my constituency, Rowan Fitzgerald, in the Coventry bus crash of 2015 serves to highlight how bus driver fatigue can be the difference between life and death. It was determined that long driving hours and fatigue was a key cause of the initial crash and therefore Rowan’s death – to the extent that Midland Red (Stagecoach subsidiary) was fined over £2m over breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act.

At present, it is completely legal for local bus drivers to drive an eye-watering 130 hours over two weeks. This is because local bus drivers are not subject to the same regulations as lorry or long-distance bus drivers. Consequently, I am of the belief that the dangerous working hours that local bus drivers are subject to are risking their own wellbeing, and the wellbeing of their passengers and the public at risk.

In the case of the Coventry bus crash, the driver involved averaged a 72 hour week in the four weeks prior to the crash and Rowan’s death – meaning that the firm failed to follow their own policy in the first place. Yet if local bus drivers’ working hours were aligned with long-distance and HGV regulations and this was properly enforced, it could prevent a similar tragedy happening again. This would mean that local drivers cannot drive more than 56 hours a week, or more than 90 hours over two consecutive weeks.

This is why I have brought forward a Westminster Hall debate on local bus drivers’ working hours with the help of Rowan’s family. We have also met the Transport Minister, Nus Ghani, and stressed to her that it is time for the government to help change the law to ensure that working practices in bus companies improve public and passenger safety – not risk it.

My Bus Hours Bill has considerable backing both in Parliament and in the trade union movement, with many bus drivers contacting me with their own testimony on the obscene driving hours they often face. The responsibility here does not lie with the drivers, but the bus companies and government to finally show leadership and put passenger safety first.

These are simple, common sense proposals that should have been enshrined into law years ago. The thing that saddens me the most is that if these restraints were already in place, I would not have even had to write this comment piece about the tragic events that ended Rowan’s life.

It would be an absolute travesty if, after hearing the story of Rowan’s family, the Department for Transport does not take action and support my Bus Hours Bill in the interests of public, passenger and driver safety.

One crash caused by fatigue is too many, as the Coventry bus crash of 2015 shows. The government must learn from these incidents to ensure another needless tragedy is not around the corner. In the meantime, I will continue to shine a light on some of the dangerous working practices bus drivers face – as well as the devastating impact that they can have.  

Matt Western is the Labour MP for Warwick and Leamington

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