North Wales coach driver covertly filmed by passenger appears before Traffic Commissioner – as regulator warns of need to have a mobile phone policy in place.
A coach driver from Colwyn Bay who was filmed by a passenger using a mobile phone behind the wheel has had his PCV entitlement revoked – and must wait 12 months before re-applying.
Sean Davies, who was working for Arvonia Coaches at the time, was filmed using the handheld device during a 10-day trip to Croatia last July.
Appearing before Traffic Commissioner (TC) Nick Jones in Welshpool on Friday (January 26), Sean said: “I very much regret what I did on that day. I have worked in the industry for 28 years and am very embarrassed and very sorry for what I brought on the company.”
Sean said he had worked for Llanrug-based Arvonia Coaches for 14 years but no longer worked as a coach driver. He also said it was a one-off and he normally used his phone to plan routes the night before a trip. The hearing heard that there had been no criminal prosecution against Sean because the incident happened outside the UK – in Belgium.
The TC viewed clips taken covertly by passenger William Jones of Llangefni on several occasions over the course of the tour. In one clip, the coach was travelling in heavy traffic along a motorway in the rain and the driver was using the mobile as he approached roadworks. Filmed by pointing the camera at the interior rear-view mirror, another sequence showed the driver apparently using the phone and only glancing up at the road ahead.
The TC said the driver was seen to look down at the device “for worryingly long periods.” However, the driver claimed these periods were “two seconds usually,” to which the TC stated: “That’s long enough.”
Announcing his decision, the TC said: “What you did was not a single isolated incident. The use of a mobile phone is unacceptable and you used it on at least three separate occasions which is wholly unacceptable.”
During the 90-minute driver conduct hearing, Sean claimed he had concerns about the personal safety of the passenger, William, during the journey. He said he had seen William stand up at the front of the coach, and that William had twice refused his requests to sit down. Sean shouted to William that he feared that if he had to brake suddenly, he would have struck the windscreen.
The TC also heard claims that Arvonia Coaches had received an unsolicited complaint about William from another passenger the day after the tour ended.
Arvonia Coaches General Manager Sean Stokes said he overheard a conversation in the Llanrug office between the passenger and a staff member.
“The gist of it was she felt he (William Jones) had it in for the driver and was looking to cause trouble,” he said.
After the allegation came to light last autumn, Arvonia was visited by DVSA (Driver Vehicle and Standards Agency) inspectors. The TC summoned Arvonia Coaches directors Rhiannon and Marcus Stokes to the Public Inquiry (PI).
Describing the DVSA report as “mostly satisfactory,” the TC said that if the phone incident had not been reported, it would not have led to a PI. He added: “Many accidents are caused by driver error, be they tiredness, drug or alcohol use or being distracted. The use of a mobile phone is exceptionally dangerous and I would expect all operators to have policies in place regarding the use of mobile phones.”
Defending Arvonia, Laura Hadzik, a solicitor at Backhouse Jones confirmed there was no written policy in place at the time of the incident, but it now forms part of the driver’s contracts of employment.
Responding to the TC’s concern that Transport Manager (TM) Rhiannon Stokes had not attended refresher training when she might have been advised of good practice with regard to mobile phones, Laura said the incident had led to a company review. Rhiannon intended to resign as TM and hand over that responsibility to her son, Sean Stokes.
Noting the family-run coach tour business was highly regarded and had not been before a PI before, the TC issued Arvonia Coaches with a formal warning.