A NEWPORT-BASED bus safety group is today launching a national campaign to change minibus driving laws – on the 20th anniversary of the worst minibus crash the UK has ever seen.

Pressure group Busk have teamed up with some of the parents of the 12 children who died on November 18, 1993 as they were driven home from London to Hagley High School in Worcestershire by their teacher, who was also killed after falling asleep at the wheel on the M40.

The campaign – called ‘Now is the time...’ – is calling on the UK Government to put an end to a system under which teachers and other volunteers can drive school-owned minibuses, carrying up to 16 passengers, without having to sit a minibus driving test, pass a medical, or carry out safety checks, unlike commercial drivers.

BUSK director Pat Harris said children were being put at risk “on a daily basis”, including wheelchair users and those with special needs.

She said this was a result of Permit 19 licences – which are issued to schools by local authorities, and not the DVLA.

“No regulating body monitors any of these Permit 19 minibus operations once they are up and running and that is no longer acceptable,” added Ms Harris, who has called for them to be scrapped altogether.

She called a UK refusal more than twenty years ago to become regulated - when all other EU member states agreed it was necessary on grounds of passenger safety - a mistake.

“The UK government could have prevented the M40 crash by ending this two-tier system if it has signed the agreement but instead it failed to put children’s safety first,” she said.

“Its continued failure to protect passengers is a disgrace.”

Busk has dedicated a part of its website to tributes for the victims of the tragic accident 20 years ago.

The family of Claire Fitzgerald, 13, who lost her life, has spoken out for the first time since the tragedy in support of the campaign push.

They said in a statement: “Surely as a lasting memorial to Claire and her friends, those wonderful, talented children whose lives were ended much too early because they were failed by the system, now is the time to show them and their families the respect they deserve but have not yet been afforded.”

Ms Harris urged parents and minibus drivers to get in touch with BUSK, either anonymously or otherwise, for answers or advice.

To get in touch go to www.busk-uk.co.uk/ or call 01633 274 944.