Saturday, January 06, 2007

National Express coach crash

I read in my newspaper yesterday about the National Express coach crash. I read the story with great interest but this section made me wonder...

Last night National Express said its entire fleet of 12 double-decker coaches would be withdrawn from service immediately as a precaution. The vehicles will be given safety checks.

...why was this, I asked myself?

I know that all coaches in the UK have a safety check every 28 days and I have no doubts whatsoever about the safety of double decker coaches. These double deckers coaches are only 2ft taller than single decker coaches but look much bigger. I do not believe they are less safe than single decker coaches and maybe safer because they have an extra tag axle placing 2 extra tyres in contact with the road surface. Then the penny dropped, literally. National Express are facing aggressive competition on their market share in the Uk from Megabus . From the passengers point of view both operators provide a keenly priced service between major UK cities. National Express operate around 600 coaches with only 12 coaches being Neoplan Skyliner double deckers. The rest of the National Express fleet are single decker coaches. Megabus operate 50 Neoplan Skyliner double deckers plus some other types of double decker coach. The public will obviously be a little nervous about buying a coach ticket at the moment and if one operator withdraws all it's double decker coaches whilst the other only operates double decker coaches guess which company the nervous punter will choose? Make a statement to the waiting media about "its entire fleet of 12 double-decker coaches would be withdrawn from service immediately as a precaution. The vehicles will be given safety checks." and that statement plants the seeds of doubt in the potential passenger. I do not believe there are any safety issues with double decker coaches but that National Express are using this accident to gain a commercial advantage over their obvious competitor.

Another issue did not arise in my newspaper but I am sure it will in time. I believe that these coaches are fitted with CCTV with cameras recording not only the forward motion of the coach but the actions of all the passengers. I expect the Police will be using these images to prosecute the driver for causing death by dangerous driving. The Police can also fine any passenger £30 for failing to wear a seatbelt whilst seated. The real conflict will begin when the insurance companies throw out any claims from passengers who were not wearing a seatbelt. The ambulance chasers will not like it one bit but the CCTV makers website claims "Insurance claims - as the trend towards no win, no fee legal representation increases, so too has the incidence of trivial and spurious insurance claims. The transport industry is particularly prone and is costing the industry hundreds of thousands of pounds, mainly in out of court settlements. Apart from the cost of road accidents themselves, (in which front facing cameras help to provide valuable evidence of blame and therefore reduce insurance costs) false claims from passengers are increasing. One major bus company claims to have recovered the cost of installing CCTV on its fleet within 18 months simply through the elimination of spurious insurance claims."

Accidents will happen and many can be avoided. I do not believe that the deaths and injuries sustained would have happened had all the passengers been wearing their seatbelts. The photographs in the press of the coach show relatively little damage to the outside body of the coach. A broken mirror and windows should not lead to the death of 2 passengers and amputation of limbs.
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