Education: Fresh Battles for Bus Safety Crusader

Article excerpt

Byline: COLIN HUGHES

SAFETY activist Pat Harris has never been one to mince her words - which is just as well, otherwise the Belt Up School Kids (Busk) initiative might not now be celebrating its 10th ann i versary.

The mother of three from Usk initially launched Busk as a short-term campaign to change the law so that seat belts were provided on school coaches and minibuses.

But it quickly became an overnight success with the result that Mrs Harris, 47, and her team of 40 expert volunteers throughout the UK are now the logical - and only - people to approach when parents, schools, lawyers and even the police need help, advice and information on a range of school transport safety issues.

And they also get inquiries from as far afield as Hong Kong and Canada for the simple reason that there is no other organisation quite like Busk anywhere in the world - because it was set up by, and for, parents.

In terms of success - and within the first two years it had suc-ceeded in changing the face of the coach and bus industry - this can be partly explained by Pat Harris's dynamic and forceful persona

i t y.

``I believe in being blunt - I certainly don't mince my words,'' says Busk's founder and national organiser.

She doesn't mind who she offends either in her unstoppable quest for higher safety standards - hence the reason why the First Group which is marketing the yellow American school bus in the UK was a little put out when she labelled the vehicle as ``crap.''

``It doesn't meet the standards of buses already built in this country,'' she says.

``I strongly object to anything coming into Britain which is of a lower standard than we manufacture.''

After a series of tests over a period of more than a year Busk decided to endorse the Scolabus built by Coach Europe of Leicestershire. At pounds 90,000 it is slightly more expensive than the American version but its added safety features include high back seats, emergency exits at every window, roll-over protection, two emergency escape roof hatches and, of course, seat belts for each child on board.

Mrs Harris says, ``We would like to see a dedicated school transport system introduced - but whether that takes the form of the Scolabus or not is another matter. But I wouldn't want to get the message across that this is the only vehicle which Busk finds acceptable.

``There are others which meet our standards but I can see there are areas of the country which are moving towards the yellow school coaches. I have to say that there are huge problems with the yellow American bus - and Wrexham currently has 10 on trial.''

Mrs Harris always felt she had right on her side in her campaign for improved safety for schoolchildren - and when Patrick, youngest of her three children, was injured in an accident involving a school minibus which had no seatbelts, she realised the time for decisive action was long overdue.

``But I always knew that if I was going to win it had to be a national campaign,'' she says.

``Parents had complained for years and years up and down the country but nobody was listening. …