More than three years since the Croydon tram crash saw ‘driver fatigue’ raised as a possible cause of the disaster, now bus drivers are threatening strike action over concerns for the safety of their passengers and themselves. RORY KELLY reports
London Bus drivers may go on strike due to the “chronic fatigue” some are suffering under demanding work schedules.
Drivers’ union Unite are to ballot their 20,000 members for a possible strike to highlight the growing concerns, while calling for better breaks and ensuring that drivers finish their shifts on time.
The concerns expressed by bus drivers about in-work exhaustion will be familiar to public transport passengers in Croydon, following the tram crash at Sandilands in November 2016, in which seven people died and 62 were injured. The Rail Accident Investigation Branch suggested that a likely cause of the crash was that the tram driver fell asleep at the controls.
The 174-page RAIB report explained how the driver most likely failed to apply the breaks due to “a temporary loss of awareness of the driving task during a period of low workload, which possibly caused him to micro-sleep”. It is a conclusion which also informed the Crown Prosecution Service when, last year, it decided not to press any charges against the driver.
Fatigue was “by far the most likely explanation of what happened”, the CPS said at that time, adding, “There was no compelling evidence that the driver had done anything which he ought to have known could adversely affect his concentration or make him susceptible to falling asleep.”
It is this which makes recent research into similar levels of fatigue among bus drivers disturbing, as they try to cope with often gruelling work patterns.
A study conducted at Loughborough University found that 17 per cent – almost 1 in 5 – of bus drivers reported falling asleep at the wheel at least once in the past 12 months.
They also found that 21 per cent of the 1,353 drivers surveyed said that they had “to fight sleepiness” at least two to three times a week.
Most disturbingly of all, 36 per cent – more than 1 in 3 – said that their fatigue had led to a “close call” within the past year.
According to Unite, this means that drivers “are permanently fatigued and at risk of being a danger to other road users, bus passengers and themselves”.
Transport for London has issued a statement saying that they are looking into the matter, which requires “collaborative action” to address this “vital issue”.
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