Thursday, December 24, 2009

Two dead in Cornwall coach crash.

When a coach driver announces over the microphone that "seats belts must be worn" there is a reason for this. It is not just to save the passengers the risk of incurring a £30 fixed penalty ticket for not wearing a seat belt but to save their lives should things go wrong. This warning applies to all coach journeys throughout the UK regardless of operator. As a coach driver operating regular scheduled services for a nationwide company, I know that this instruction to passengers is routinely ignored by them. The coach driver has no authority to enforce the passenger to wear a seat belt or to refuse travel to them, if they refuse to wear a seat belt.

Sadly on Tuesday night, a coach skidded off an ungritted road in icy conditions, killing two women and injuring 47 people. The casualties, were named as Irene Spencer, 78, and Patricia Pryor, aged 70, both from Camborne, Cornwall, were among a 48-strong party on a trip to see Christmas lights when the coach overturned at about 10.15pm. The first police car to arrive at the scene in Townshend, near Penzance, also lost control and smashed into the coach's undercarriage while passengers were still inside. One of the women was pronounced dead at the scene, while the other died in hospital. Six people remain in hospital tonight - one in a serious condition, police said.

Jane Moore, who helped the walking wounded in the aftermath of the crash, praised the driver's actions. "He managed to avoid two huge trees and go through the gap, which saved a lot of them I think," she said. "He did fantastically. He was very shaken. There was no way he could have done anything to avoid it. It was sheet ice all the way down. It was like a mirror. We stepped out and nearly went over." Mrs Moore said not all passengers had been wearing seatbelts. "Apparently, the driver said many times to put them on but not everyone did," she said. "Without the seatbelts, it could have been a lot worse."

Cornwall County Council said the route was not treated because it was classed as a "minor" road.

Looking at the website of Williams Travel , the operator of the coach in this crash, there is a press statement about the accident. There is also some pictures of their fleet of coaches and it looks like this was their only Bova Futura coach.

I am saddened by the avoidable deaths of Irene Spencer and Patricia Pryor, I offer my condolences to their families.

My gut feeling is that if all the passengers had been wearing their seat belts then nobody would have been killed or seriously injured. Oh yes, it would have been a very nasty shock for the driver, just look at the photographs above and imagine you were driving in the dark with those trees heading towards your windscreen. But then with the coach on it side and what appears to be some minor body damage, you would hope to get away with the odd bruise and not some other passenger thrown on top of you because they chose not to wear their seat belt.

I hope that the Police do not bring a case against the driver involved in this accident. It is always a worry being a coach driver that you are always putting your licence and your freedom at risk whenever you drive out of your depot. In other jobs you could face disciplinary action but not the loss of your licence and work or a custodial sentence is things go wrong. You could be involved in a nasty accident and face prosecution, which is a bit responsibility to face everyday. However, if any one of your passengers chose not to wear their seat belt, then what could have become a serious motoring charge would escalate into a charge of causing death by dangerous driving or manslaughter. This seems very unfair to me that passengers who refuse to wear their seat belt not only increase the risk to their own lives but also the driver who can take no action against their non-compliance.
Well the police can hardly bring charges against the coach driver when their own officer arrived at the scene and had the same accident in his patrol car and also landed in the ditch, with the benefit of knowing an accident had alreadt occured.
Ah, that would be using common sense and fair play but we all know just how vindictive the Police can be against all drivers. The law expects drivers of buses, coaches and lorries to drive with greater skill than ordinary car drivers in family cars or Police patrol cars.

I think the coach driver has no case to answer and he should be praised for doing his job very well in the circumstances. The problem is simply the passengers who refuse to wear their seat belts.
I agree with you, Stephen, questions will be asked by the Police as to why the coach driver - operating locally, for a local firm and presumably local knowledge - was operating down such a road in the climatic conditions being felt. The Police car colliding with his vehicle is incidental, since it only travelled along the road in response to an emergency call from the driver/passengers.

As you say, wearing a seatbelt can be the difference between life and death. Clearly, injuries are always going to be likely and substantial in a crash like this, but the difference between 'injury' and 'fatality' is the seatbelt. We don't know for certain that everyone wasn't 'cluncked in' and that the two ladies who died could have passed away through shock (heart attack), but as you've observed before, despite making seatbelt announcements (which legally no coach driver is bound to do), the number of people who actually wear them is negligable.
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