Bus safety includes lots of strands – driver’s responsibilities, passenger’s responsibilities, bus company’s responsibilities and the local authority responsibilities (for things like road surfaces etc.).
The most common accidents on board buses in the UK happen as a result of driver error and often this is because of driver fatigue. There are many occupational factors that expose drivers to a potential increase in vulnerability to feeling fatigue. These include long hours, 24-hour services, varying shift patterns and traffic congestion. The job’s nature also means that drivers don’t have a lot of control over when they take breaks or when they sleep, eat or exercise. These factors can exacerbate a driver’s risk of having problems with fatigue.
TfL (Transport for London) commissioned some research to investigate driver fatigue. The project looked at understanding the nature and extent of driver fatigue, what contributed to it and solutions that might help.
Nature and extent of driver fatigue
TfL’s survey showed that 21% of bus drivers say that at least 2 to 3 times per week they are fighting sleepiness. Over one-third (36%) said they have had at least one ‘close call’ in the last year due to being sleepy. The sample of the survey was relatively small but it showed that early-morning drivers were getting less than 5 hours sleep on average before their shift.
Different bus routes have different challenges and it’s fair to say that city buses are different to rural buses. These buses are often large, with challenging routes, low speeds, services 24/7 and many stops. In London, most buses have stairs and passengers that are standing. What’s more, these buses travel close to many hundreds of pedestrians on each journey. These factors contribute to their unique risks for the collision types they are involved in and the outcomes of these collisions in terms of injuries and fatalities.
Injuries on buses
Approximately 65% of injuries on board buses happen when there is no collision involved. These come from falls, trips and slips. In London, TfL state that 76% of bus injuries happen without a collision involved. When buses do collide, however, the chances of injuries are higher and bus passengers are injured more frequently.
Another statistic, though, is that when bus accidents do occur, the greatest share of serious injuries and fatalities lies not with the bus passengers but pedestrians. Most often, a pedestrian injured in a bus accident has been crossing a road from the nearside, which leaves little time for a driver to react.
Other causes of collisions
Of course, many collisions will be due to driver error but there are other reasons such as environmental factors (the weather, the road surface etc.), the vehicle’s roadworthiness and blind spots.
Collisions involving fatalities or injuries that are deemed to be life-changing will have the police carry out investigations. One report from the Metropolitan Police in London showed 48 fatalities in the 5 years between 2009 and 2014.
If we compare this to the EU as a whole, for the ten years between 2007 and 2016 there was an almost 50% fall in fatalities involving a coach of a bus in both the UK and the EU.
Bus collision rates
Many comment that buses are the safest passenger transport on the road but is this really accurate? It depends what you’re looking it.
For example, if we compare how many fatalities there were per each passenger mile travelled by cars and buses, we see that per mile, car passengers have a seven-fold risk in comparison to bus passengers.
Yet, if we consider the number of miles the vehicle travels (instead of passenger miles), we can see that there is a higher fatality rate in bus collisions. Cars, taxis and vans have around one-fifth of this risk. A reason for this is because buses in cities or urban areas are often travelling at low speeds and low mileages but their drivers negotiate complex junctions regularly and have to interact with motorcyclists, cyclists and pedestrians.
National fatality figures
Statistics show that fatalities happening in bus collisions are declining. When bus collisions do occur, there are bus occupant injuries most frequently. If we just look at fatalities, though, pedestrians are the ones that are most frequently killed. In London, about two-thirds of fatalities in bus collisions are pedestrians and most occur in road crossings with a collision to the front of the bus as the person crosses from the near side.
After pedestrian deaths, it is car passengers and occupants that are the next largest group of fatalities in bus collisions. Again, these fatalities mostly occur when the cars collide with the bus’s front.
There are a number of key points to take away from these statistics.
- Across Europe, there has been a 50% decrease in the number of bus collisions between the years 2005 and 2014. This is also reflected in the UK.
- Statistics from Great Britain show that fatalities are reducing and the reduction in fatalities in London is slightly less than the national figure.
- If we only consider London, the reduction figure is 13%, which is much lower than that national 38%.
- When buses are involved in collisions, the most frequently injured parties are bus occupants.
- Two-thirds of bus injuries happen when there is no collision.
- The most frequent group of fatalities are pedestrians and these deaths most often happen when a pedestrian crosses the road in front of a bus from the nearside. There is usually less than one second for a driver to act in these situations. Car occupants are also killed more often than bus passengers when they collide with the front of a bus.
- The causation factors that appear to be the most frequent in collisions are human or environmental.
- In more than half of the files passed to the police to look at fatalities, the driver was not at any fault as the pedestrian entered the road without due care. In cases where the drivers did have a precipitating factor, it was mostly that they failed to stop or failed to avoid a vehicle, object or pedestrian.
- When car occupants are fatally injured, the most frequent reason was the loss of control of the car.