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Listen to the coach driver!

Saturday April 05, 2014

This is something that every parent should not only read, but also provide a copy of to their child’s school governing body that are legally responsible for risk assessing school trips in the UK and school visits abroad.  It is an account of a typical couple of weeks in the life of a coach driver assigned to home to school work and driving school parties abroad.  If this does not move you into action, then BUSK does not know what will!  This should be your wake up call to act now, before you allow any school to take your child abroad. 

An account from one coach driver of a typical work load:

For those parents who will happily send their child abroad later this year, perhaps you should understand clearly, what the daily duties of a coach driver like myself are leading up to just before the key goes in the ignition of my coach on the homeward journey to the UK.  

This account is common practice in the few weeks in the life of a driver in the winter, particularly skiing trips.   Most ski trips are from a Saturday to a Saturday. This means the driver might not get back from the trip the week before until a Sunday afternoon.  He will have been subject to variable sleep patterns and have driven 20 hours through the night.

The driver will then get into a car and head back to the depot. This might add another 4 hours plus onto his day. Upon arriving at the depot, he will then get into his own car, drive himself home and go to bed.

Usually, but not by any means always, he will have the next day off. Although the  tachograph may record 09.00 UK time, his boss will see that he has had 24 hours 'off' and want him and expect him to come into work to undertake a school run. 

Now, he will be sheeted for another skier the coming Saturday, and as he is expected to have had two days 'off' in resort, which should be pointed out, this simply means not doing any recorded driving ... its nothing to do with having proper rest and relaxation in the same way like other people such as office workers have at the weekend.

So on the company’s planner, the driver will find himself doing school runs, day trips, theatre breaks, shows and rail replacements right up until the next weekend.

Now, this is where it gets complicated. Depending where the driver’s base is, he might be sent down to Dover or Folkestone to take a 'day bed' at a hotel.  He will only sleep if his body clock will allow it.  While he is in the day bed the coaches will usually start arriving at the docks in time for the 20:00 ferry crossing and any later ferries.  This may, and very often DOES mean that he will travel down to Dover early in the morning for his 'day bed', which might involve at 03:00 start to get to the yard, to meet the other driver; to get in a car to drive down south to get to the hotel  check in go to bed in the middle of the day and sleep is possible, so that he is 'legally' rested which is different from being ‘actually rested’.  The driver then get up, gets washed and dressed and travels by car to get to the dock and wait for the coach to get through check-in for boarding the ferry.  The driver will then visit the driver’s restaurant on board and have something to eat.

After disembarking at the destination, the party will be driven through the night, often to a pre-designated 'breakfast stop' before continuing to the resort and then drive to the hotel, or a lunch stop, ski fit, then back to hotel, disgorge his passengers and luggage. Drivers then clean the coach (and boy, will it need it) ready for the next morning.

The driver will then get some sleep, usually fairly easily due to exhaustion, and just hope that he wakens up for dinner. If he sleeps in, he will have no food until the next day, because these hotels have only one sitting for meals.  They do not have a restaurant in the hotels that drivers or anyone can visit when they want to and are often some distance from away from take-away outlets.

The next day will begin at 06.30.  After washing, shaving and dressing, the driver will start the coach, de-ice it if necessary, put the heaters on to warm it up ready for the passengers and then go back into the hotel for breakfast.  He will need to make a couple of rolls up for his packed lunch as not other catering is provided.

Then the coach is driven to the ski lift. The driver waits there all day. His co-driver will come with him.  Why? The alternative is to sit in an empty hotel all day with no TV, no Wifi and no company.  This is sufficiently soul destroying for him to prefer sitting on a coach all day where, he at least has the chance of company and companionship.

At the end of the day, the party are driven back to the hotel for them to have dinner. After dinner, he will drive the party for their apres ski activities, swimming, pizza, bowling, disco or even shopping and ice-cream. Once the driver returns the party back to the hotel he will go to bed once the children settle down around 22:00.

To recap, that is a 06.30 to 22:00 day for two drivers, every day for six days.

On the last day of the school trip, the driver might be required to drive the group to the ski lifts. A local firm might bring them back or might not. Either way, this day is departure morning.  The party will be leaving in the evening and the driver will be driving through the night. The crescendo of noise will continue as the pupils are screamed at by teachers to get packed and bring their cases to a central point.

The cleaners will be in all the rooms. They will be hoovering all morning. When the group get back they will shower, change, and head into dinner.  They board the coach around 17:00 to 18:00 local time. The party begin the long haul journey back to the UK.

Now, lets work BACKWARDS ... and you'll soon start to see how the CUMMULATIVE lack of rest will have an effect on the driver’s reactions and his ability to perform as all passengers have the right to expect him to…

Drivers will have had virtually NO sleep during the day - and why would they when they will have been asleep from 22:00 as described above.  A person cannot sleep more than the body can sleep! 

That means…

  • 22:00 - 06.30 with a few hours of intermittent dozing in between.
  • 12-14 hour shifts every day for the whole week prior to this.
  • Intermittent sleep in a 'day bed' prior to boarding the coach in the first place.
  • An early rise to drive or be driven to the day bed.
  • A weeks worth of work before the driver even goes on the ski trip.
  • A short rest and an illegally excessive period of work at the end of last ski trip....but this illegal act is almost undetectable. Top of Form

As a driver who represents many others, we collectively pray that as a parent or school governor, you're starting to see risk to the school party.  After a few weeks of this treadmill, the toll on a driver, physically, is going to have an effect. Its called sleep deprivation.  The Department of Transport spend huge amounts of tax-payers money to advertise how dangerous tired drivers are. The simple answer to this safety breach is to ensure that all drivers have a suitable room in a quiet area of the hotel away from the children and that they are not disturbed when they need to sleep.  How difficult is that?  Drives have tried to bring this matter to the industry’s attention and it is only now that BUSK, independent from the industry has taken our concerns seriously and set up the Nightcap campaign, that we have decided to tell parents the simple truth.  I am a driver. Would I allow my child on a trip like this?  NO.

The final question drivers have, now you have had this crucial situation brought to your attention is this… with this knowledge, is whether you're the one who's willing to lose their child in a coach crash on a French motorway at 4 o’clock in the morning?

For more information about coach drivers abroad please contact BUSK directly.