Newcastle school bus driver 'incapacitated' seconds before crashing into pedestrian and cars

| 04.06,20. 05:02 PM |

Newcastle school bus driver 'incapacitated' seconds before crashing into pedestrian and cars

A Newcastle school bus after it fatally struck a woman waiting to cross a road in November 2019.(ABC Newcastle: Carly Cook)

An investigation into a bus crash that killed a woman in Newcastle in November 2019 has found the driver suffered a transient loss of consciousness in the seconds before she was struck.

Raani Bennett, 35, died when the school bus hit her while she was waiting to cross the road at a pedestrian crossing on Brunker Road at Adamstown.

A report by the Office of Transport Safety Investigations (OTSI) found a review of the bus's CCTV footage showed the 61-year-old driver appeared incapacitated and had lost control of the bus.

In an interview, the driver described feeling dizzy and looking for a place to pull over before everything went black.

The report found it was likely he had suffered a transient loss of consciousness for a 16-second period.

It also noted he had suffered a heart attack six months before the incident, but had been cleared to return to work and was taking prescribed medication.

The report said it was unlikely the driver was affected by fatigue and was not under the influence of illicit drugs and or alcohol.

Bus drivers are 'last line of defence'
OTSI has recommended Transport for NSW re-evaluate its health assessment standards for commercial passenger vehicle drivers.

The report noted that both the rail and aviation industries subject drivers and pilots to more stringent and robust medical assessments.

"Although the bus driver is in a role that is equally safety critical to that of a commercial pilot or train driver, the bus driver is not always subjected to a physical medical examination as a prerequisite for approval of their Driver's Authority," it said.

"The medical assessment for bus drivers is heavily reliant on the bus driver openly disclosing any medical conditions that could affect their ability to drive safely.

"The bus driver is the last line of defence. Any effects of ill health and incapacitation of the bus driver can and will affect the safety of people on and around the bus."

'No chance to say goodbye'
Ms Bennett's husband, Joe Price, told the ABC about the moment police came to his door.

"You don't get a knock on the door from them just to say g'day. When they knock on your door it's not normally a good thing," he said.

"I had a hope she was going to be OK, but she'd already passed when they came.

"There was no chance to say goodbye and the whole world just turned upside down from there.

"I drive that road every day, and you run through your mind about what could have been done differently, but I don't know what could have been done differently from Raani's side of things.

"Everything was done right, she was on the footpath, standing, waiting."

Mr Price said he had been focussed on holding things together for their five-year-old daughter, Willow.

"I've got Willow to think about, she's missing out on all those things, I know Raani loved the big fanfare of the birthdays, the Christmases," he said.

"That's the stuff I'm going to miss the most.

"I was at a friend's wedding not long after and it really struck home that Raani won't be there to have that love and warmth, and really enjoy those moments."


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