Managing difficult passengers

Drivers may encounter difficult or aggressive passengers during the course of their duties. These passengers have the potential to distract and distress the driver.

This page provides guidance for bus operators about how to manage the risks posed by disruptive passengers. The driver's main priority and safety duty to the passengers is to concentrate on driving safely. If a passenger's conduct distracts the driver it may be unsafe to continue the journey. 

Passengers may exhibit behaviours including:

  • Being disruptive and non-cooperative
  • Verbal threats, intimidation or harassment
  • Physical assault and spitting
  • Throwing objects and projectiles
  • Damaging property on the bus
  • Intoxication - drinking, smoking or drug use
  • Bullying and violence.

Driver attitude and behaviour

If the driver remains calm and respectful toward the difficult passenger it may de-escalate the situation and reduce the risk of physical and verbal assaults.

Below are some tips for drivers:

  • Treat passengers with dignity and respect at all times
  • Accept differences in culture, language, religion, accents, gender and speech patterns
  • Speak clearly and ask passengers to repeat information if you are unsure
  • Remain calm, polite and professional at all times. Don't take insults or offensive language personally. Remember, your response may turn a minor situation into a major conflict
  • Maintain self control. Loss of temper affects drivers' judgement, reduces their driving ability and increases their stress
  • Empathise with the passenger when possible.

It is important to remember when dealing with difficult, intoxicated or drug affected passengers that their ability to make reasonable and rational decisions is greatly reduced.

What to do if the situation escalates

Drivers should try to avoid conflict at all times.  However, situations may arise that cannot be tolerated or ignored, such as when an assault has occurred, a threat has been made or other laws have been broken. In these circumstances, the driver should call 000 as soon as possible.

If the driver is concerned about a passenger's behaviour, the following actions may help:

  1. Stop the vehicle when and where considered safe
  2. Open all doors
  3. Remain in the driver's seat or area if appropriate
  4. Request the difficult or aggressive passenger to alight from the vehicle
  5. Do not physically handle the passenger unless you are acting in self-defence. (If acting in self-defence the amount of force used must be reasonable and proportional)
  6. Call 000
  7. call a supervisor.

If the difficult or aggressive passenger refuses to alight from the vehicle the driver could also consider the actions below:

  1. Engage the handbrake, switch the engine off and remove the keys
  2. Advise the other passengers that they may alight the vehicle
  3. Alight from the vehicle
  4. Wait until the police arrive.

Driver training

It is crucial that every driver understands the procedures and is given the opportunity to practise applying the procedures in a variety of situations.

Interpersonal skills training of frontline staff can be a proactive way to reduce the risk of difficult passengers. Drivers who know how to deal with difficult passengers will be more likely to be able to prevent situations from escalating into more serious ones, for example, arguments, abuse or assault.

Consideration could be given to training in customer service, behavioural assessment and conflict prevention/mitigation.

Operator protection measures and technologies

Operators could also consider the use of available protection measures and technologies to assist in the management of difficult passengers.

Operators need to consider their own operational environment and the level of associated risk. The use of such technologies may be appropriate for high risk operations. 

Additional protection measures and technologies may include:

  • Duress alarms and emergency communications systems
  • Audio and/or video surveillance, such as CCTV
  • Barriers
  • Signage
  • GPS-based vehicle tracking
  • Self-defence tools and training
  • Counselling and employee assistance programs.