BEREAVED parents are calling for action to make school minibuses safer on the 30th anniversary of the death of their daughter.
Liz and Steve Fitzgerald’s 13-year-old daughter Clare was among 12 schoolchildren and their teacher who were killed in an horrific crash on the M40 near the Longbridge Roundabout in 1993.
Clare was one of 14 pupils from Hagley High School on board a minibus being driven by their teacher when it smashed into a road maintenance vehicle on the hard shoulder just after midnight on November 18.
They were returning to Worcestershire from the Last Night of the Schools’ Prom at the Albert Hall in London.
The inquest concluded the teacher most probably fell asleep at the wheel after teaching, driving and supervising for approximately 16 and a half hours.
But Claire’s parents believe the causes of the accident have yet to be addressed and after three decades of waiting for action are taking the matter into their own hands.
To coincide with the 30th anniversary, the couple are calling for clear laws on the operation of minibuses for all schools.
Many schools use their own minibuses to transport pupils for sports and trips but the Fitzgeralds say the current law around their use is not fit for purpose.
Many private schools are required by law to have an Operators Licence. This means that any minibus used is driven by a trained driver and not a teacher.
In contrast, state schools are covered by regulations which are much less well defined and frequently open to misinterpretation and error, resulting in poorer safeguards for pupils and drivers.
In the couple’s view there are two simple alternatives – for all school minibus to operate under an Operator’s Licence or to not use minibuses at all.
They told the Observer: “Transport laws must be clear, relevant, succinct, robust and in plain English. The law as it stands is unequal, therefore unjust. Why should privately educated children have a higher level of safety in place than state educated children? This is outrageous on every level.
“Parents, carers and very many others are generally not aware of the situation and so when they are asked for permission for school trips of any nature, are they aware of the risks to which their children are subject? Would they sign the consent form if they knew?
“If schools operated under the O Licence regime, no-one would be permitted to drive a minibus on a Category B car licence and all drivers would be properly trained.”