When 10 people died in the Hunter Valley bus crash, it sparked a push to improve bus safety. A year on, this is what’s changed

When a bus carrying wedding guests crashed in the middle of the night almost a year ago, killing 10 people and injuring 25 others, it not only prompted a nationwide outpouring of grief, it started a movement to address bus safety.

As loved ones of the Hunter Valley bus crash victims prepare to mark the heartbreaking first anniversary of the tragedy on June 11, steps continue to be taken to improve bus safety to ensure a similar tragedy never happens again. 

In the aftermath of the crash, survivors, victims’ families and road and transport experts formed a group called Stop Bus Tragedies. 

Adam Bray, who lost his son Zach in the bus crash, is one of the group’s representatives. 

Mr Bray said he began thinking more about bus safety gaps in the days following the crash.

“The word preventable just kept popping up over and over again and that added on top of the initial shock, subsequent grief and, of course, trauma,” Mr Bray said. 

“It invoked anger because that means it’s not an accident. It’s something that totally could have been prevented.”

Adam Bray, right, and Zach Bray who died in the hunter bus crash of June 11, 2023.

Adam Bray (right) lost his son, Zach, in the bus crash last year.(Supplied: Adam Bray)

State government implements reforms

Following the crash, the state government expanded the scope of its Bus Industry Taskforce to examine safety management and regulation. 

Five recommendations were made in its first report, including seatbelt reforms, a road safety campaign to promote seatbelt use and an examination of the risks associated with standing on buses. 

The state government said work had begun to implement all five recommendations, including working with bus operators and drivers to educate passengers on the requirement to wear a seatbelt, while a statewide seatbelt advertising campaign is planned.

The taskforce’s second report made recommendations to improve bus reliability and equity. 

“We made significant, immediate and rapid progress with [the state government’s] taskforce to blend our ideas, blend our findings, blend our recommendations together,” Mr Bray said.

“To come up with some progressive safety reforms, preventative reforms to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”

Man with cropped grey hair, stubble, glasses, black suit, open collar light shirt sitting at a table typing on a computer.

Dean Moule said several positive steps have been taken to improve bus safety since the Hunter Valley bus crash.(ABC News)

Call for federal bus taskforce

Mr Bray said the federal government was initially slow to acknowledge coach safety gaps but had become more proactive and engaged. 

“It’s painfully slow,” he said.

“I’m not a bureaucrat, so it can be frustrating for me to understand the process, but they’ve identified, accepted and are working on solutions.”

Dean Moule, who is the national technical manager for the Bus Industry Confederation, the peak body for Australia’s bus and coach industry, said there had been a significant increase in regulations implemented since the Hunter Valley crash.

“Normally, in any given year, we would see one or two,” he said.

“In the last 12 months, we’ve seen eight brand new regulations.”

Mr Moule said the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator had expanded its We All Need Space campaign, to ensure the public knew coaches needed more room to turn and break and there were plans to increase signage and awareness about wearing seatbelts.

A dark blue and sky blue bus in NSW.

Bus and coach safety reforms have been made at the state and federal level.(ABC Newcastle: Romy Stephens)

“Such as audible announcements when the door closes, [and] signs on the back of seats not dissimilar to what you would see on an aircraft,” Mr Moule said. 

There have been calls for a federal bus taskforce to be established, similar to the one that operates in New South Wales. 

A bus safety working group was set up late last year, comprising state and territory governments and bus industry representatives, tasked with improving vehicle safety. 

It is currently examining options to strengthen seat belt use in coaches. 

Mr Moule said he would still welcome a taskforce.

“We would certainly think [a taskforce] could look at things like accident data collection at a national level,” he said. 

“And also infrastructure to further enhance safety for all the road going public.”

In a statement, Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Carol Brown said $21 million had been committed to the National Road Safety Data Hub in the 2024–25 Budget.

“We also continually review, consult on and update Australia’s legislated road vehicle standards, known as the Australian Design Rules [ADRs],” she said. 

“In the past 18 months, the government has made a range of new ADRs that apply to heavy vehicles.

“These standards include new requirements for lane departure warning systems, reversing technologies and advanced emergency braking.”

A close up of the front of a bus in NSW from the side.

The state government Bus Industry Taskforce is preparing to release its third report.(ABC Newcastle: Romy Stephens)

What’s next?

Mr Moule said other areas that could be examined were more training for first responders attending bus crashes and ways to modernise the Australian bus fleet.

“Another area that’s of possibility to change is to incentivise the replacement of older vehicles,” he said.

“Replace them with newer vehicles, which also then would have newer safety technologies on board.”

The NSW Bus Industry Taskforce’s third report release is imminent and is expected to address driver monitoring and telematics, which are technologies that assist drivers. 

Mr Bray said his ultimate goal was to make sure coach and bus travel was safe Australia-wide. 

“So that drivers, passengers, school children, everybody who needs to ride on a coach or a bus can arrive to work, arrive to school and more importantly arrive home.”

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