Travel Law Expert Demands Urgent Review Of Coach Safety Guidelines
A survivor of a ski-trip accident abroad where a coach crashed exactly seven years ago to the day of the recent disaster in Rheims, France, has spoken out about his concern at seeing similar disasters happening year after year.
Paul Ellis, 52, from Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, was travelling to a ski resort in Germany when the coach he was travelling on crashed on 19 February 2005, the same day as the recent French crash which killed a British teacher and injured 20 others, including schoolchildren it was carrying.
The coach driver in the most recent case, Derek Thompson, has been charged with involuntary manslaughter, with French prosecutor Christian de Rocquigny saying ‘the most likely explanation is that the driver fell asleep at the wheel’.
Now, Paul says seeing the details emerge of such a similar crash on the anniversary of his own nightmare is “very difficult viewing” and has joined travel law experts at Irwin Mitchell, which represented 32 people injured in the Germany crash, in calling for urgent action to improve safety guidelines for coach drivers and operators.
Paul, a retired transport distribution manager, said: “I saw the coach crash in France on the news at the weekend and this brought back all the memories of the crash in which I was injured, in Germany, seven years to the very day. We were en route to a skiing holiday when the coach we were travelling in crashed and turned over onto its side. The accident killed one of us on board and dozens of us were injured.
“I am still suffering from the effects of the injuries that I sustained. It was a horrendous experience and I have the greatest sympathy for all those injured in this most recent coach crash and their families. It must be a particularly difficult time for the family of the passenger who sadly died.
“I am very concerned to see that these awful coach crashes are still happening. I strongly believe that more needs to be done by the authorities to prevent similar coach crashes in the future.”
Clive Garner, head of the travel law at Irwin Mitchell and his team have extensive experience of representing more than 200 victims and the families of those killed in coach accidents around the world.
As well as acting for Paul, the team represents many others seriously injured in the same crash in Germany including the family of a passenger who was tragically killed in the same incident. The team is also currently representing the families of three British students recently killed in a coach crash in Thailand. They have represented the victims of many coach crashes in France, Spain, Austria, Germany, Belgium, Bulgaria, Turkey, South Africa, Morocco and USA.
Garner said: “What should have been a safe trip home after an enjoyable holiday has ended in tragedy, changing the lives of those touched by this disaster forever.
“Sadly, over more than a decade, we have seen many lives cut short or ruined following incidents like this. Too many Britons are killed or seriously injured in coach crashes on foreign roads every year and more needs to be done now to reduce the risk of future incidents like this.
“Driver fatigue has been a major factor in a number of other fatal coach crashes in which we have represented victims and their families, and having had access to all the available evidence from the police investigation, the Public Prosecutor in the latest case in France has concluded that the most likely cause of the disaster is that the coach driver fell asleep at the wheel.”
Prosecutors said driver Derek Thompson, 47, had admitted that he could not remember the accident and they have concluded that evidence so far leads to the view that he had fallen asleep before the coach went down an embankment at around 2.30am.
There are also reports that the tachograph indicated unexplained variations in speed in the nine minutes before the accident consistent with the driver falling asleep.
Garner continued: “Over many years we have repeatedly called for stricter safety measures for coach travel to protect British and foreign tourists. There must be an urgent review of the guidelines to protect passengers from dangers including the risks associated with driver fatigue.
“There needs to be improved driver training and tour companies and coach operators need to improve monitoring and supervision of drivers to ensure that they are fit to drive safely. Drivers’ work and sleep patterns, including the numbers of hours driven and the timing, frequency and quality of breaks need to be assessed to determine safer limits. It is also vital that the safest routes are selected to minimise risks.
"Our thoughts go out to all the victims of these tragic incidents and the families of those who have sadly lost their lives. Paul's account is similar to many other victims and clearly nothing can turn back the clock. We hope now that lessons are learned to prevent a repeat of this kind of accident in the future and that all those affected receive the justice that they deserve."
If you or a loved one has suffered a physical or psychological injury due a road traffic accident involving a bus or coach, you may be able to claim compensation. Find out more information on our Bus & Coach Accident Compensation page.