Northern Ireland bus safety fears as one in four found 'unroadworthy'
One in four buses in Northern Ireland are unroadworthy or in breach of licensing regulations, teachers have been told, just a day after 45 pupils narrowly escaped death in a terrifying road crash.
Teachers have been urged to stop children going on school trips if buses do not provide a seat and belt for every child, a special event at Stormont heard yesterday.
The timely message that there is a significant number of defective buses being used to transport schoolchildren came just hours after a bus carrying 45 secondary schoolchildren was in collision with a car on the main Drumquin to Omagh road in Co Tyrone.
There is no suggestion that the bus involved was defective or in breach of regulations. The PSNI and the bus operator Translink have launched investigations into how the collision happened.
Education Minister John O'Dowd said the crash served as a reminder that "accidents can happen at any time".
He added: "But policy and regulations mean nothing unless those who are responsible on a day-to-day basis take every opportunity to ensuring that safety comes first."
The school bus ended up on its side on Monday morning after it crashed through the hedge after the collision.
The pupils from the Castlederg area were left shocked but largely unscathed in their lucky escape on their way to school in Omagh.
Andrew Wilson of the PSNI's Collision Investigation Unit said that the fact that the vehicle's glass windows did not shatter helped protect the pupils from serious injury.
Alan Cunningham of the Fire and Rescue Service told the Stormont audience that most of the deaths caused in bus crashes were due to passengers being ejected from their seats.
The need to ensure that pupils were protected during bus travel by the 'one seat, one belt' rule and buses should meet all roadworthiness safety checks and licensing regulations was stressed at yesterday's awareness raising event organised by the Federation of Passenger Transport NI.
The audience of principals, teachers and coach operators heard that a survey of buses carried out by the Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA) in 2013-14 showed that 27% of those inspected were found to be non-compliant with one or more of a comprehensive range of roadworthiness or traffic licensing checks.
Mervyn Storey, then chair of the Assembly's Education committee, described the statistics as "shocking", but said coach or bus travel was still a safe mode of transport for schoolchildren.
"We have heard that a number of school buses are defective. That is shocking and must be addressed without delay," said Mr Storey.
"But if children are tragically killed or seriously injured on the way to or from school, it's more likely that it will be as a pedestrian or car passenger."
He added that all education board transport and two-thirds of Tranlink's fleet was fitted with safety belts.
Karen Magill, chief executive of the Federation of Passenger Transport NI Ltd, said:
“Our children must be transported to and from school in vehicles which are safe, secure and fit for purpose. Far too many school buses are falling below the required safety standards. We are determined to address the number of vehicles on our road which are defective.”