For some reason, drivers of high vehicles seem, all too often, to forget to check the height of a bridge before they attempt to go under it. The result is usually a severely damaged vehicle, often wedged under the bridge, with its load strewn all over the road.
That’s bad enough, but the result can be frighteningly dangerous if the tall vehicle is a double-decker bus full of passengers.
On Thursday 10 September 2020, not one but two buses hit bridges in the south of England.
At around 8am in the morning, a bus operated by Stagecoach, taking 11 to 16-year old school children to the Henry Beaufort School in Winchester, drove under the Southampton main line. The arched bridge, almost long enough to be called a short tunnel, has a headroom of around 12 feet. The bus was 14 feet tall.
Accompanied by a lot of screaming from the children, the roof of the bus was completely torn off and came to rest alongside the vehicle leaning against the sidewall of the bridge. Three children were taken to hospital, their injuries serious.
That same evening, another double-decker school bus, this one fortunately travelling empty after it had dropped off all of its young passengers, was driving along Frogmore Street in Bristol when its roof was removed by the Park Street bridge, which carries the A4108.
There have been a number of instances recently of high vehicles attempting to drive under bridges that are too low for them – ‘bridge bashing’ as it is called. A total of 1,714 were reported in the year 2019/20 – that’s over four a day!
It is not only dangerous to the occupants, it also damages the infrastructure, causes delays to other transport users, and costs the UK economy a load of money each year (Network Rail alone had to pay out over £10 million to train operators in delay compensation, not including the cost of repairs).
Back in 2018, Network Rail launched its campaign ‘Lorries Can’t Limbo’ to draw HGV drivers’ attention to the problem. From this experience, bus drivers need to be added to that list.