I SEE that you have given a prize to J A Ellis for his letter remarking that bus drivers could not take 10-minute breaks every two hours and are therefore in danger of falling asleep at the wheel.

I recall disagreeing with that letter because it is hard to imagine that bus drivers in Huddersfield and the environs could possibly fall asleep, being just too busy with traffic lights, inconsiderate car drivers, daft pedestrians and lunatic cyclists.

Also, I have often seen bus drivers enjoying breaks while waiting for the correct time to set off again.

It is mostly on motorways that sleep overtakes people and if there is no time for a bus driver to take a break the schedule is illegal. If timetables do not allow the prescribed breaks, as Mr Ellis implies, this is surprising. But if true it obviously requires attention from the owners.

My father was a bus driver in 1940. One night he fell asleep while driving. A front wheel hit a kerb which steered him to the other side of the road. Touching the other side he said “was enough to wakken me up”. A woman sitting in the front seat alongside him said: “I saw thoo was noddin lad”. He wanted to know why she had not had the nous to alert him before he dropped clean off. She said she “didn’t like to say nowt”.

It was past midnight. He had been driving since four in the morning on several jobs, after a previous long day, and it was hard work. No power steering, air brakes or even hydraulics in those days. You needed real muscles and even with a top speed under 30mph you took your life in your hands. I recall as a child hearing about dreadful crashes on Blue Bank, near Whitby, and the infamous Garrowby Hill on the Wolds. If a gearbox stripped or a half-shaft broke there was no way the brakes would hold. Even with everything working properly on steep or long hills with a full load it was generally not possible to stop till you got to the bottom.

Hills on major routes had notices saying “Stop here and engage low gear”. Dad did not seem to think there was anything particularly odd about not being able to stop. There was hardly any other traffic about so it was no problem, although sometimes, he said, he made passengers get out and walk down a steep bit. Of course, there was no “test certificate” then and, if your pads had got worn, going downhill was the likeliest place to find out.

My father’s next job was as a lorry driver with a timber company. As a small boy during the war I often went with him. When crawling down Garrowby Hill with a load of pit props he would always drive with his left arm tight round me and the driver’s door open, ready to jump the moment he heard an axle shaft give way.

I guess I just liked the hugs and had no idea what the reason was. It was a genuine hazard. The quality of steel was not what it is today and many deaths resulted from mechanical failure.

As a bus driver dad’s wage was £1 and five shillings per week with no overtime pay. At that time a man was grateful just to have a job. The first time he complained about his conditions, being forced to work on his one day off in seven, he was peremptorily sacked. That was in the good old days, the passing of which so many people of my age mourn.

Mark Mercer