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Parents of pupils in 1993 M40 minibus disaster continue safety law fight | #schoolsaftey


Image caption,

Ten children were killed in the crash on the M40 and two others later died in hospital

Parents of pupils killed when their minibus ploughed into a lorry on the M40 in 1993 want more safety reforms.

Liz and Steve Fitzgerald, whose daughter Claire died in the crash, spoke out as the disaster’s anniversary approaches.

A teacher and 12 pupils, from a Worcestershire school, were returning from a concert in London when they crashed, on 18 November 1993.

It led to seatbelts becoming compulsory for minibus and coach passengers.

The group – on one of two minibuses from Hagley Roman Catholic High School – was returning from the Royal Albert Hall when the late-night crash happened. Only two pupils survived.

A memorial will be held later at Hartshill Hayes Country Park to remember people who have died on Warwickshire’s roads, ahead of the anniversary on Saturday.

Image caption,

Liz and Steve Fitzgerald want schools to be forced to use trained drivers

These had featured two benches facing each other as opposed to rows of seating facing forwards.

But Mr and Mrs Fitzgerald have repeatedly called for more legal changes, and want legislation passed to ensure only qualified professional drivers are involved in school and college trips.

Their call has been echoed by teaching union the NASUWT – members of which will be at the memorial event – which wants teachers barred from driving minibuses without formal qualifications and statutory safeguards.

‘Something was wrong’

Mrs Fitzgerald said she could not understand why teachers were still allowed to drive school minibuses instead of trained drivers, when “children are immeasurably valuable for our whole society”.

But she explained she did not blame the teachers themselves, adding: “They’ve got enough to do.”

Mrs Fitzgerald, who now lives at Shenstone in Staffordshire, said her daughter had been a “bright and vivacious young person”, who enjoyed netball and music and was “very interested in other people”.

She said she remembered arriving at the school car park to collect her daughter and realising something was wrong.

Image caption,

Liz Fitzgerald said she would continue to fight for the reforms in the law

Parents were called in to be told there had been an accident involving one of the school minibuses, and Mr Fitzgerald said they later learned their daughter was one of those who had not survived.

He said: “Claire’s loss has meant a big hole in our lives, but it has always left us asking questions.”

While he said it was “too late” to look back at what happened now, they wanted change to protect other children on school trips.

Claire’s parents want all schools to have the same regulations as private schools.

The couple said that private schools have to act as “commercial operators” with transport managers, qualified drivers and well-maintained vehicles, and believes other schools should be forced by law to do the same.

They added that state schools are covered by regulations, principally section 19 under the Road Traffic Act 1985, which allows organisations that operate without a view to making a profit to have a permit which exempts them from the need to hold a PSV operator’s licence when providing transport for a charge.

Under specified conditions, the drivers of certain vehicles are exempt from the need to have Passenger Carrying Vehicle entitlement on their driving licence.

The couple said this was a confusing and undefined law, open to misunderstanding and creating a “two-tier system”.

They want to see the removal of section 19 and for all schools to operate under the same licence regime.

The Department of Education has been contacted for comment.

A spokesperson for the Department of Transport said: “Every death on our roads is a tragedy and we continue to work tirelessly to improve road safety for all users.

“We provide guidance to schools and local authorities on driving school minibuses and we continue to work with the sector on promoting road safety.”

Mrs Fitzgerald said she did not want to die before seeing change and hoped safety organisations would continue the fight for the families, who she said should not have to continue to campaign.

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