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8 Children hospitalised by bus explosion and the driver just drove away...

8 Children hospitalised by bus explosion - and the driver just drove away.

8 children from Chipping Norton School and Burford School were taken to A&E at the Horton Hospital in Banbury after an explosion on the outside of a school bus on Tuesday at 3.35pm. And the driver just drove away!

"The only person there with any authority there and he just disappeared" said one angry 12 year old schoolgirl on her eventual return from casualty with a 2 legs pockmarked by over 50 shrapnel wounds.

"The bus started off, there was a very loud bang and all the girls screamed, the bus went forward a few metres, the driver got out and looked at the back and then got back in and drove off".

In the meantime one boy, the worst injured, was on the ground with injuries and other children were pulling up their trouser legs and picking at shredded tights to find their legs riddled with bleeding cuts from flying debris.

Parents coming to the scene found bleeding children who didn't know what had caused the explosion as the bus had disappeared. Their greatest concern was the catalyst had blown out as this would have driven shards of toxic metals into the childrens' flesh.

"I can't begin to fathom what was going on in the driver's head to simply go away like that - did he not notice children were hurt? Did he even think to check?" said one perturbed parent.

School Transport Policies - cinderella service of the education system

"It also raises serious questions in my and other parents' minds about the quality of training and instructions that RH Transport has given to drivers who are, after all, placed in a position of responsibility for our children the moment they board the bus" said Malcolm Blackmore, father of a 12 year old victim who was one of the more seriously wounded. "Off the top of my head - Do they have incident procedures that should be followed? Do they have checklists printed out on the bus for drivers to go through in the case of an accident so that someone who is rattled or shocked can concentrate their mind on a clear procedure to follow? If not there should be" he continued "and it should also be the requirements of the County Council, who are responsible for schools transport management, to draw up these comprehensive requirements and ensure that they are enforced in the companies holding the contract. School bussing in Britain is a mess compared to other countries like Canada and the USA and something needs to be done about this "cinderella service" where clapped out buses are simply run into the rust at the end of their commercial lives."

It was only hours later that parents were to discover that the cause of the injuries was a rear tyre blowing out scattering rubber, stiff fibres and small pieces of metal wire over a wide area and into kids' skin. "We had no idea that a bus tyre blowing out like that could cause such damage. The children often sit on the grass so they would have been hit at eye level, and if someone with a baby in a buggy had been standing in the area ... both don't bear thinking about!" said one parent.

"Now that we know it was a tyre blow out it raises the issue of why the driver carried on for another half mile with a single tyre on one side of the vehicle, carrying the remaining children to the next drop off point. He then, even more astonishingly, carried on back to the depot in Witney with a defective vehicle. How much of this was individual stupidity or how much lack of clear instructions by RH Transport as the responsible company, or a combination of both, is something I expect to be looked into with utmost urgency" Mr Blackmore continued. Parents are writing to the County Council, who oversee the school transport contracts, to RH Transport management as the responsible contractor, and await with interest the outcome of the Police inquiries.

Tattooing fears

Meanwhile, the children concerned spent an unpleasant few hours in the A&E at Horton Hospital having particles dug out of their legs with needles. All the wounds were fortunately superficial with some bruising where children where hit by larger fragments as well as the puncture wounds on the bruises. The worry now is that particles of black tyre material may have been driven into the correct layer of skin to act effectively as tattoo pigments, which would leave the children, mostly girls of 11, 12 and 13 with one boy, with black spots on their legs that would require cosmetic surgery. Only as the wounds heal will it become evident if there has been any permanent scarring, and it can be imagined that this is a disturbing prospect which can only be patiently waited upon to find out.

Maintenance and Replacement Standards - and they do it differently abroad

Mr Gary Walsh said that too often the buses "seem to be clapped out and at the end of their commercial lives" and raised concerns over how maintenance standards were upheld and if they were adequate. "For a tyre to blow out like that it must have suffered some sort of sidewall damage. Would this have been visible? Do they check the tyres every day before going out?" he said. Other questions: Were the tyres retreads for example? How worn were the treads? How old in years were the tyres despite tread depth?

"Now that we know a blow out can cause such damage it makes me think that perhaps there should be a policy of school bus tyres being replaced every couple of years irrespective of tread wear due to the possibility of sidewall damage which can be cumulative" said Mr Blackmore "It all comes around to the issue of overall school transport policies at Government and County Council level and does reinforce my view that our national standards just aren't good enough. I'm Canadian - I find it jaw-dropping the standards of school buses and training of drivers compared to what I was used to as a child where purpose built buses, about the safest things on the road, were staffed by people with first aid training and with the authority of the school behind them for behaviour control, with stringent safety and replacement standards of equipment. We are obsessed with doing things on the cheap here and it is simply not good enough."

"For example, how many times have you seen a school bus loading or unloading kids and cars rushing past? In Canada and America it is simply illegal to pass a school bus when its lights are on and you get the book thrown at you if you do - its one of the few traffic laws pretty well universally observed such is the public view about conduct around school buses!"

Time for a campaign for proper school buses?

Perhaps it is time that a proper debate and mandatory standards to improve school bussing undertaken in this country. With increasing rural populations as villages grow, more and more children are being transported. The training and quality of bus staff and the quality of vehicles and their maintenance regimes can no longer be left simply to the seemingly minimal standards we appear to accept with disquiet but no action.

This incident occurred in David Cameron's constituency, odds on - my bet - to be next PM ... but it could have happened anywhere. Perhaps it is now time for parents to start insisting that money needs to be prioritised for greater safety standards and better supervision of staff and higher training levels than has been the case hitherto.

Malcolm Blackmore · Sat 3 Oct 2009, 00:27 · Link

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