This month’s catastrophic bus crash in the NSW Hunter Valley has sparked an urgent review of bus and coach safety regulation in the state.
- The bus safety audit will look at seat belt use, driver training and fatigue
- Transport Minister Jo Haylen says passengers expect safety
- The NSW premier and opposition leaders paid tribute in parliament
On June 11, a coach carrying 35 passengers leaving a nearby wedding overturned at a roundabout in Greta, killing 10 people.
The driver, Brett Andrew Button, has been charged with 10 counts of dangerous driving occasioning death.
It has rocked the Hunter town of Singleton, where several victims were popular members of the community.
In the wake of the incident, the NSW government has ordered its Bus Industry Task Force to urgently examine concerns around safety management, seat belt use, and regulation.
The task force will consider retrofitting seat belts on school buses in regional NSW, and expanding seat belt laws across the state.
It will also consider whether changes should be recommended to the Australian Design Rules for buses and coaches, as well as issues surrounding safety management, driver training and fatigue.
Transport for NSW’s oversight of operators and any risk management gaps in the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator framework will also fall under the review.
Transport Minister Jo Haylen said if the review finds there needed to be more enforcement on seat belt use, “we will do it”.
“When tragic events like this happen, we need to look at what we can do to ensure this doesn’t happen again,” she said.
“Passengers get onto buses and coaches expecting to be kept safe and the task force will look at what needs to be done to improve passenger safety across the industry.”
Former State Transit Authority auditor Darren Lane has been appointed as a member of the task force.
Ms Haylen said Mr Lane’s expertise would be crucial in “reviewing what is already in place and what we can do better”.
It is expected the task force will deliver any early findings by July 31 of this year.
On Tuesday, Premier Chris Minns led condolence motions in state parliament and paid tribute to grieving families and friends.
“The tight-knit communities of Singleton, Cessnock, and the surrounding towns are hurting … even as they rally together,” he said.
Opposition Leader Mark Speakman said no words could compensate for the pain caused by the crash.
“But I hope that it’s a comfort, albeit a tiny one, that the entire state and the nation mourns with you.”
‘No system is ever perfect’
Bus Industry Taskforce Chairman John Lee said industry regulation was needed, with compliance varying across the country.
He said many operators have made safety a priority, but enforcement is important.
“There is no doubt though that in different environments, especially when it’s hard to access mechanical servicing in remote parts of our country, it’s fair to say that the level of compliance would be somewhat mixed and that’s why you need regulation,” he said.
“I think there’s a lot of personal responsibility, if you look at say chain of responsibility legislation for directors and others, I think there is very much a safety-first focus, but no system is ever perfect.”
Mr Lee said it was challenging to understand what the responsibility of the operator, the owner of the bus company, the driver, and the passengers was.
A NSW south coast group, pushing for seat belts on buses since 2001, has welcomed the review.
Belt Up For Safety was founded following a fatal school bus crash near Ulladulla in 2001.
A student was killed and 36 people were injured.
Glenda Staniford from Belt Up for Safety in Ulladulla said the state’s bus seatbelt roll-out still had a way to go.
“These children need to be safe and not just children. Coaches already have laws that seatbelts are fitted but not so for school buses.”