The 18th November marks the 30th anniversary of the tragic M40 minibus crash, where a minibus being driven by a teacher from Hagley High School in Worcestershire crashed into a stationary highway maintenance vehicle on the hard shoulder of the motorway, killing the teacher and 12 of the 14 children on board. It is suspected that the teacher fell asleep at the wheel after working for 16 hours.
Although much has been done to improve the safety of minibuses themselves, such as through the mandatory fitting of seatbelts since the crash, the NASUWT is deeply concerned that the fundamental cause of the crash – a teacher driving a minibus when they should not have been – remains unresolved.
It is still the case that a teacher could do a whole day of teaching, and then drive pupils a long distance in a minibus, which was the fundamental cause of the 1993 crash. In addition, there are no requirements for the routine health checks, enhanced safety checks on minibuses, and the other requirements that commercial organisations are subject to.
This is permitted as schools are entitled to operate under section 19/22 exemptions, so that an Operators Licence is not required. The NASUWT understands these exemptions were granted as a stopgap decades ago to allow non-commercial organisations time to adapt to the new Operators Licence requirements, but have never been removed.
Under these exemptions, there is nothing in law to prevent a teacher passing their car driving test on a Monday and then being asked to drive a minibus full of children without any further training, only two years’ experience.
The NASUWT is therefore calling for the Department of Transport to withdraw the section 19/22 exemptions for schools, which allow them to operate minibuses without an Operators Licence. This would mean that all drivers of minibuses would need to have formal licence qualifications, and statutory safeguards on driving would be in place, as well as enhanced safety checks on the minibuses.
The NASUWT firmly believes that the section 19/22 exemptions are allowing unnecessary risk to children and teachers and need to be removed.
We have written to the Secretary of State for Transport on this matter, but would like to also ask you to write to your MPs, requesting they do the same.