Bus trips a safety issue
By BELINDA SCOTT
SCHOOL excursion buses have 'fallen under the radar' of parental concerns, Ian Muldoon said this week.
Mr Muldoon, a Coffs Harbour parent who is also the president of the Coffs Clarence District Council of P&C Associations, said parents were concerned about the rising costs of school excursions, but had little other involvement.
Mr Muldoon was responding to comments by Bellingen bus operator Garry Sampson that schools have double standards on bus safety.
Mr Sampson, who runs a school bus and a coach in the Bellinger Valley, says parents worry about school buses but ignore problems with excursions, although there is no age limit on coaches and most of those doing excursions for schools in the Coffs Harbour area are older than the school buses. He said excursions often covered long distances on busy highways, but schools were interested only in getting the lowest price.
"Parents, principals and P&C Associations want seatbelts, no standing in aisles, and no three-to-a-seat for primary students in school buses, but have no hesitation in putting kids in old, un-seatbelted coaches which are travelling up and down the highway at 100km/h, fighting with B-Doubles to travel on excursions," Mr Sampson said.
"Even RTA driving hours are being exceeded, but when you bring it to the attention of the school, they say if you don't do it, someone will ? and someone else does.
"There was one case recently where a driver was on call for 19 hours with seven hours sleep. That is not only a recipe for an accident which not only affects the driver, but the coach company and the person who organised the excursion, knowing full well they were breaking the law.
"I often wonder if parents and P&Cs are fully aware of this."
Mr Muldoon said he personally had not been aware of these problems. He is now planning to raise the matter at the next P&C District Council meeting.
Mr Muldoon deplored the pressure being applied to bus companies. He said there was a constant tension between cost and safety concerns.
Public schools are obliged to seek three quotes for bus excursions, but are not obliged to accept the lowest quote.
A spokesperson for Coffs Harbour Primary School said excursion buses were generally booked by the stage or grade teachers involved.
The president of Coffs Harbour Primary School P&C, Robyn McEvoy, said parents did not book excursion buses.