Safety net covers over 5,000 school buses

Everyday, over 5,000 drivers transport thousands of children as young as four years between their homes and schools. The journey is laden with risks, yet it is carried out for the sake of knowledge.

By Shafaat Ahmed

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Published: Mon 27 Sep 2010, 12:19 AM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 4:44 PM

But, authorities have been working in close coordination over the years to ensure that the risks are minimised. And, now, as the new academic year has set in, they have got into overdrive.

As the primary body to ensure safe and smooth transport for all, the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) has spread a safety net across town for students. Besides training drivers and attendants and seeing that the buses are well equipped, RTA has launched an awareness campaign that runs along the line, ‘Schools without accidents.’

As part of the campaign, that will continue for the first two months of the academic year 2010-2011, RTA’s Traffic Awareness Section will hold lectures, entertainment and interactive activities that will involve students, teachers and parents. The events are aimed at enhancing the traffic awareness in the parties concerned.

“Through this campaign, we are seeking to meet a set of specific objectives by focusing on furthering the traffic awareness among students regardless of gender, age and academic stage, by highlighting issues associated with their safety during the daily travel to and from schools,” said Nabeel Mohammed Salih, Acting Director of Traffic Department at RTA’s Traffic & Roads Agency.

The campaign, being launched in coordination with the Ministry of Interior and Dubai Police, is trying to rope in as many federal and local government departments as possible in an attempt to reach out to a maximum number of audience.

Apart from lectures and other events, one of the main tools is an awareness manual being distributed to students and parents across Dubai.

“We have developed and published an educative manual called ‘Child Safety Guide’ to be distributed to all Dubai schools. This manual offers basic information that should be known to every child and parent in order to avoid all associated risks, including those related to traffic accidents,” informed Salih.

The manual contains information related to the safety of the child with particular emphasis on traffic aspects such as boarding and alighting from the school bus, proper awareness while crossing roads, highlighting the importance and types of child seats and how to use them, ensuring the child is not left alone in the vehicle and actions to be taken in case of accidents.

Several interactive sessions as well as workshops will form part of the campaign that will begin from the first week of October, to ascertain that the students have grasped the essence of the guide,” Salih said.

In addition, RTA’s Public Transport Agency (PTA) is working closely with school authorities and the police to enforce a strict safety regime. Besides training the drivers and attendants, the regime sees to it that all buses are in perfect condition and are equipped to transit students safely.

Over 2,000 school buses belonging to 154 schools are already equipped with basic safety features stipulated by RTA, but this year, following orders from the authority, schools are racing against time to equip the buses with the Ground Positioning System (GPS).

“We have received orders to install all buses with GPS and we are working on it right now,” said a senior official associated with a GEMS schools. At this pace we will be able to have our entire fleet equipped with GPS in the next 15 days,”

Once the GPS is on all the schools buses, it will be easier for school authorities as well RTA to monitor the whereabouts of buses in a better way. It will also help drivers and authorities communicate properly.

The equipment currently compulsory for school buses include stop signs on the side of the vehicles, seat belts and first aid boxes.

The CEO of PTA, Eisa Abdul Rahman Al Dosari said the safety of students is the combined responsibility of drivers, attendants, parents and school transport officials.

“School bus drivers should behave in accordance with the training provided by RTA and ensure that the attendant does his job in maintaining order in the bus and all children are safely picked up and dropped at their assigned points. We also urge parents to do their duty,” said Al Dosari.

RTA issued 5,757 school bus driver permits since 2008 after providing them with necessary training for the job. Around 1,000 attendants have also been trained since the start of this year.

Monitoring the sector, the authority issued 100 fines on an average, every month since the start of this year for those not complying with the stipulated norms like a maximum speed limit for school buses which is 100km/hr.

However, there are some parents who say all this is still not enough.

Though he is impressed by the safety regime introduced by RTA in the last two years, Zakir Hussain, a teacher in one of the city’s premier schools and a parent of two feels there are still loopholes which the school authorities misuse.

“I know most schools flout the regulations for the capacity of buses. For instance, if there are 75 students from a particular area, schools generally cramp all of them in a 60-seater bus to avoid using another bus for just 15 students,” said Hussain, who didn’t want to name the schools.

He said seating three in place of two is a normal practice.

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