It was November 18, 2009. I had waved goodbye to my beautiful, vibrant, then-10-year-old daughter as she boarded a bus to the local primary school.
The next time I saw her, later that afternoon, she was at a scene of unimaginable horror, being resuscitated in the back of an ambulance.
How had this happened? She had been travelling home on a Victorian rural school bus. A bus without any basic safety standards.
She was unrestrained, bearing the major impact of a collision with a grain truck, thrown across the bus, her skull striking the window and eventually becoming trapped between the seats.
A seven-year-old boy and the bus driver were thrown from the bus on impact and also sustained serious injuries.
Many other children sustained lesser injuries. Ultimately though it was lucky that many children had already been dropped off before the collision.
Emily sustained a fractured skull, resulting in a severe brain injury, fractured femur and other internal injuries and was flown to The Royal Children’s Hospital, where she spent the next six months, the first three weeks in intensive care.
During this time, life was in the balance and the longer-term outlook was extremely bleak. We are extremely lucky that Emily survived.
She has had to relearn everything from scratch: eating, walking, toileting, dressing herself and in particular speech, which is ongoing, but in the almost three years since the accident she has made enormous progress.
She has a long way to go and despite the progress she has made, still faces a lifelong struggle with her disabilities.
The bus that Emily was travelling on was built prior to 1995.
Buses built after this date are required to comply with Australian Design Rule (ADR) standard 68/00 for occupant protection.
Accordingly, like hundreds, maybe thousands of buses on country school runs, basic safety features such as seatbelts were not included.
This bus was designed to travel at speeds no more than 70km/h and was built at a time when heavy vehicles in Australia were not permitted to travel over 80km/h.
In 2012, times have changed, speed limits have increased to 100km/h and yet our rural kids are travelling on buses with outdated safety features designed for more than 30 years ago.
In this modern age, this is simply unacceptable.
How long can you allow these potential “death machines” to transport our precious children?
Why is it that it is second nature to restrain our children in cars (and the law requires it) and yet we are expected to allow our children to travel to school, potentially over long distances, in an unsafe bus, putting our trust in an unknown driver?
Would you transport your children in a car without seatbelts and basic safety standards?
The answer is of course no, so why should it be any different on a bus?
The answer is simple. All buses should conform to ADR 68/00 standards. In this accident the investigation report states: “had the bus interior been constructed to ADR 68/00, the compartmentalisation, additional seat strength and padding may have reduced the critical injuries sustained by one child who was trapped between the seats in the bus”.
This was my child, Emily. The investigation report further stated that “the child that was ejected from the bus may have avoided serious injury had he been restrained by a seatbelt”.
This child, like my daughter, also has injuries that will continue to affect him for many years to come.
Only NSW and Victoria deny such safety to their rural students and allow them to continue to travel in extreme danger due to no seatbelts, inadequate seat anchorages and deadly low-back seats with metal bars.
All other states in Australia have seen the need to increase safety requirements in school buses.
Driver error was involved in my daughter’s accident, but it is not the only issue here. I believe the Victorian government is also at fault for not providing my daughter with the protective safety standards of a bus that conforms to ADR 68/00.
Studies have shown that since the introduction of such safety standards, fatalities have been greatly reduced.
I urge the current government to make a change — don’t let Victoria become the sorry state, make it the safety state.
Take these unsafe vehicles off the road and ensure that bus companies are only allowed to use buses on school runs that conform to ADR 68/00 standards.
The number one priority is rural school buses, due to the added dangers of speed, unsafe road surfaces and the degree of interaction with heavy vehicles. But ultimately all buses require these additional safety standards.
I have noted that the federal government has extended its Seatbelts for Regional School Buses program ($4 million over four years) but this is a fraction of the money needed to get 100 per cent compliance and does not place any onus on bus companies to conform.
Seatbelts are relatively useless if installed in old buses without the required 20g seat anchorage points (due to the increased possibility of seats dislodging in high-impact collisions).
Surely it is more cost effective to help prevent the type of injuries, sustained by Emily, than to cover the inherent multi-million-dollar medical costs.
I don’t want to see another family go through the heartache, grief and anger that we have experienced.