Travel expert calls for improvements in coach safety

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Travel expert calls for improvements in coach safety

21st February 2012

A travel expert has called for improvements in coach safety and driver training after a coach crash in Northern France involving British schoolchildren on Sunday morning left one teacher dead and 27 adults and children injured.

Katherine Allen, head of the Travel and International Litigation  department at Fentons Solicitors LLP was speaking as eleven people remain in hospital following the incident that involved a Worcestershire school party returning home from a skiing holiday in Italy.

“There have been a number of similar incidents involving British holidaymakers in Europe throughout the years,” said Katherine, a partner with the firm. “Our thoughts go out to the family of the man who was tragically killed. In the light of this fatality it is vital that travel companies look at improving driver training and that French police now conduct an investigation to determine exactly how this incident was allowed to happen.”

At around 03:30 local time on Sunday, the coach, carrying 49 people, 29 of which were schoolchildren, is understood to have left the A26 motorway near the town of Reims in the Champagne-Ardennes region of France, before careering down an embankment and flipping over onto its side.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has confirmed that 27 adults and children were taken to two local hospitals and 22 were treated for minor injuries. Four teenage pupils from Alvechurch Church of England Middle School in Worcestershire remain in a serious condition in hospital although their conditions are not thought to be life-threatening.

“It is critical that French accident investigators now ascertain how this incident occurred and pinpoint whether some kind of mechanical error was to blame or whether the actions of the driver could have somehow contributed,” said Katherine.

The driver, who was slightly injured in the crash, tested negative for drugs and alcohol but has been detained by French police following his release from hospital, as they investigate whether or not he may have fallen asleep at the wheel.

“While French police continue with their investigation it is important to acknowledge that driver error is unfortunately an all too common cause behind crashes involving coaches,” said Katherine. “Tiredness behind the wheel is a major contributing factor and travel companies must ensure drivers are properly trained and adhere to the laws that are in place to ensure passenger safety.

“Coach drivers are required by law to take a 45 minute break every four and a half hours and the maximum amount of daily driving time they are allowed is nine hours,” added Katherine. “These restrictions exist because of the role tiredness plays in incidents caused by driver error, and particularly in incidents occurring at night.”

The coach, which was operated by Solus Coaches based in Tamworth, Staffordshire, was on its way back to the Midlands following a holiday in the Italian Valle d’Aosta ski region and is known to have had two drivers on board at the time of the incident.

Read more: BBC