Father pleads for bus safety

21st May 2004 at 01:00
Family launches campaign for school transport strategy after son's death in crash. Ian Cameron reports.

The father of a schoolboy killed in a bus crash appealed to Welsh Assembly government politicians to take immediate action to prevent further tragedies.

Schoolboy Stuart Cunningham-Jones's father, David, said that the Assembly had a great opportunity to give the rest of Britain a lead in terms of school transport safety.

Mr Cunningham-Jones made his impassioned plea at a meeting of the Assembly's education and lifelong learning committee, which is reviewing school transport to try to ensure that there are no more fatalities.

The 12-year-old died at Ystradowen, near Cowbridge, when his school bus left the road and crashed into a tree in December 2002. Thirty other children were injured. An inquest heard that the driver lost control when unruly pupils grabbed the wheel and the bus careered off the road.

Mr Cunningham-Jones, who is spearheading Stuart's Campaign For Safer School Buses, showed committee members pictures of Stuart and the crash scene.

He said: "The school bus service should be the safest journey. Legislation has got to look at today's problems and action really does need to start soon, if not now, to avoid any further accidents."

The campaign's strategy for safety on school buses says:

* all buses should be single-deckers with factory-installed seat belts for every passenger;

* the "three-for-two" rule which allows three children in seats designed for two adults should be abolished;

* there should be adult supervision on every vehicle other than the driver, and CCTV cameras should be positioned to monitor the behaviour of pupils.

Mr Cunningham-Jones told Assembly members there should be an all-Wales school transport policy operated by every council.

"Every local authority should have a liaison officer to ensure consistency.

There should be a contract between local authorities, transport firms and schools to give parents confidence."

He said the Transport Bill proposed by the British government did not go far enough on school safety to rectify rules first laid down 50 years ago.

Pat Harris, founder of BUSK - Belt Up School Kids - also gave evidence to the education committee. She hit out at the standard of school buses, claiming that many of them should have been consigned to the scrap heap.

"Local education authorities are the biggest users of cowboy operators who are still using buses more than 20 years old."

Many councils ignored the wishes of parents and displayed a worrying lack of knowledge of risk-assessment procedures, she added.

Jane Davidson, minister for education and lifelong learning, said the Welsh Assembly government had no statutory powers but added: "I hope we can work with local authorities on guidance."

Assembly members later inspected an American-style pound;130,000 yellow bus being tested in Newport, Gwent, which is fitted with seatbelts.

Trevor Roberts of Newport Transport, a company owned by Newport council, said there had been an excellent response from schools that have tried out the bus.

The council is ordering six more of the 70-seater coaches, which are equipped with CCTV and run by drivers with first-aid training.

Mr Roberts said: "What price can you put on a life? Everybody's just talking, that's why we're doing something about it."

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