Rural and Regional Bus Safety

The Hon. PAUL GREEN [10.01 p.m.]: …tonight I will speak about the findings of the Inquiry into School Bus Safety in Rural and Regional NSW. This inquiry was initiated by the Minister for Transport and the Minister for Roads and Ports to inquire into issues relating to school bus safety in rural and regional New South Wales. I commend the Government for this move.

The inquiry had three simple terms of reference: first, to assess the status of school bus safety in rural and regional New South Wales; secondly, to consider the full range of school bus safety measures, with reference to national and international experience; and, thirdly, to recommend the most effective ways to make school bus travel as safe as possible. In the report Carolyn Walsh, the independent chair of the inquiry, spoke about the spirit behind the inquiry. She stated:

For most people in the community, there are few things more valuable than ensuring the safety and security of our children. Parents and carers, and the community generally, have a right to expect that all that can reasonably be done is being done to protect children, particularly when they are being entrusted into other people’s care.

While bus travel remains a relatively safe form of transport, there has been increasing concern expressed by parents, carers, community groups and safety organisations that more can be done to reduce the risks that children are exposed to when they travel by bus to and from school and on extra-curricular activities. This is particularly the case for children travelling by bus on high speed, single lane roads and for children moving in and around bus stops and interchanges. Safety data confirms that some of these risks are more pronounced in rural and regional environments.

The report identified areas of good practice, as well as opportunities to further enhance the safety of school bus transport. In doing so, the report makes 35 specific recommendations to government. Four of these are considered to be core reforms. They are:

1. A phased program to provide ADR 68 compliant buses fitted with lap/sash seat belts for all Rural and Regional school student bus travel operating outside of lower speed urban environments as soon as possible, to be completed within 10 years;

2. The elimination of standing passengers where buses are required to travel on unsealed roads or on roads with a speed limit of 80km/h or more that are outside of urban areas, no later than day 1 of term 3 of the 2013 school year;

3. Prioritisation of school bus routes and bus stops when infrastructure spending is being allocated;

4. Enhancement of programs to educate and develop safety awareness amongst stakeholders, in particular for motorists who share roads with school buses.
The report goes on to say:

Of all the recommendations, those that have the greatest potential impact on the cost of school bus services relate to the prohibition of standing on higher speed routes and the introduction of seat belts on buses operating outside of low speed urban environments. There are two broad cost impacts: accelerating the replacement of existing buses to meet the recommended timeframe for availability of seat belts on all buses; and the ongoing, additional cost of procuring buses with seat belts and the additional capacity (buses and drivers) that will be required once standing is prohibited and seatbelts are fitted.
While the committee warmly welcomed the presence of seatbelts on buses within as short a time frame as possible, it recognised that there are a number of operational and financial impediments to achieving this. By weighing these costs and operational constraints against the safety benefit, the committee strongly endorsed a program that would result in seatbelts being installed in all buses operating on non-urban rural and regional routes within 10 years. I note from all the signatures on the report that everyone agrees 10 years is a workable option. I note also that this is not a cost but an investment in the lives of our young children.