Tighter school bus safety for new academic year

The new academic year starting next week will see tighter safety measures on school buses.

  
Students play during their lunch break on the last week of the school term, in Wellington International School in Dubai. Image used for illustrative purpose.

Students play during their lunch break on the last week of the school term, in Wellington International School in Dubai. Image used for illustrative purpose.

REUTERS/Jumanah El-Heloueh

Wednesday, Aug 24, 2016

Dubai/Abu Dhabi: The new academic year starting next week will see tighter safety measures on school buses.

In Dubai, the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) introduced a few changes to school bus specifications earlier this year.

Starting from April 1, an electronic tracking system using GPS technology became mandatory on school buses operating in Dubai. Many buses were already equipped with real-time satellite tracking before it became mandatory.

Also, schools and bus operators were in April allowed to modify the seating of large school buses (more than 50 seats) by fitting them with “2+3 seats”, meaning two seats on one side of the central aisle and three on the other, in each row.

The modified seating of 2+3 will help school buses carry up to 60 students, unlike the current seating in some buses, which is 2+2 and can carry only up to 40 students.

The new arrangement is allowed if the bus has two fire extinguishers, two first-aid kits and two attendants. This has helped bus providers streamline operations, and also means there will be fewer buses on the roads.

In Dubai alone, more than 150,000 students use around 5,000 school buses every day. Their safety on board is a priority for RTA and bus operators, who told Gulf News how they keep children secure on the go.

School Transport Services (STS), the UAE’s biggest school bus operator, is introducing this academic year a free smart app for parents who can track the bus boarding status of their child, the bus location and updates in real time. They will also be able to pay bus fees through the app.

During the academic year, STS transports 72,000 students every day on its 1,800 buses for 65 schools in the UAE.

The private company is also installing rear cameras as an aid to drivers while reversing. New buses in its fleet also have a three-point seat belt system compared to the lap seat belts, while some buses can stream live on-board video to the STS control room. On other buses, the three cameras can record for 967 hours (around four months).

STS managing director M. L. Augustine said only authorised staff can access the footage if needed for investigative, feedback or training purposes after fully taking into account privacy and security considerations.

“We’re at the forefront of school bus safety in the UAE; not even developed countries have all the features we do here,” he added.

Augustine said school buses reduce traffic congestion on the road and near school entrances by pooling students in one vehicle. “Less parents’ cars on the road also means less carbon emissions and less travel time to school.”

When asked if STS planned to raise bus fees this school year, Augustine replied that there was no immediate plan to increase charges.

In Abu Dhabi, according to the Department of Municipal Affairs and Transport (DMAT) and the Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec), all school buses are now expected to be fitted with CCTV cameras, GPS trackers, provisions for special needs pupils and seats made of fire-resistant and shock-absorbent materials.

In February 2015, DMAT, Adec and Abu Dhabi Police had announced that the emirate’s nearly 12,500 bus drivers and attendants have to undergo medical checks to ascertain their level of fitness before being issued the relevant licences.

Schools have been given till early 2017 to ensure that all drivers and attendants are fit, and not suffering from diseases that could hamper their performance on the job. These include uncontrolled diabetes, obesity, hepatitis B and sleep apnoea.

Moreover, buses with 22 or fewer seats must also feature three-point seat belts, while those with more seats must have two-point seat belts.

Schools and transport providers that violate these rules could be fined, have their licences revoked, and vehicles impounded.

On August 18, government-owned transport provider Emirates Transport announced that its fleet of 1,488 buses are ready to transport more than 56,200 schoolchildren enrolled at 119 public and 21 private schools.

Amer Al Shehi, director of Abu Dhabi public school transportation at Emirates Transport, said the company is also trying out a new safety alert system in buses for kindergarten pupils.

The system, which is expected to be incorporated in all public school buses, includes an electronic counter to ensure that all pupils who board the bus get off at the destination. If there is a discrepancy in these numbers, an alert will be sounded to the control room. There are also three buttons, placed at the front, middle and rear of the vehicle, and drivers must press these after checking to see if all pupils have disembarked. Finally, motion sensors will be able to detect any movement that occurs after the engine is turned off and sound an alarm.

RTA School Transport Manual (excerpts):

The floor of the bus aisle must be covered by inflammable and non-slippery rubber.

Maximum speed of the school bus shall not exceed 80km/h and each bus should be equipped with a speed control device.

Each bus must contain first aid kit proportionate to the number of seats.

The bus must be fitted with two manual fire extinguishers if the school bus is 10 metres long or more.

There must be secure emergency exits on the right, left, back and top sides of the bus, with clear signs indicating these exits.

Safety tips

Motorists:

Slow down and obey all the traffic laws and speed limits in school zones. Be alert and watch out for children near schools, bus stops and in school parking lots.

Stop for the school bus stop sign. Wait for the children to board and alight and move when the bus moves.

Do not pass other vehicles or change lanes in school zones or at crosswalks.

Parents:

Make sure to follow the correct drop off and pick up practices and don’t walk your child across the middle of a street just because you’re holding her or his hand.

Discuss the safety rules with your child and practise the rules during family trips so that it is rooted in their memory.

If you meet your child at the bus stop after school, wait on the side where the child will be dropped off, not across the street. Children can be so excited at seeing you after school that they dash across the street and forget the safety rules.

Students:

After getting off the school bus, children must stop at the edge of the footpath.

Before crossing make sure that the road is clear from the parked school bus.

Look left, then right, and then again both sides before crossing just to make sure road is clear of vehicles.

Always remain 10 steps away from the bus to be out of the ‘Danger Zone’ and where the driver can see you.

School bus incidents

March 28, 2015

A 17-year-old Indian student dies and a number of others are injured in a school bus accident on Al Fayyah Road in Sharjah.

October 7, 2014

Nizaha Ala’a, a four-year-old Indian girl, dies after being allegedly left locked inside her school bus of Al Worood Academy Private School in Khalidiya, Abu Dhabi.

June 1, 2014

18 schoolchildren and three drivers are injured in a multiple-vehicle crash in Ras Al Khaimah.

May 18, 2014

Fifteen schoolchildren had narrow escape with moderate injuries when their school bus veered into the hard shoulder, running over an Asian man and injuring a woman.

March 27, 2014

A bus conductor is seriously injured and two pupils slightly hurt after they are thrown out of a school bus when the door suddenly opens as the driver turns the vehicle at a roundabout in Kalba in the Eastern Region of Sharjah.

October 20, 2013

Two students are hit by a car when trying to cross the road in front of their school in Sharjah

September 10, 2013

A school bus driver is killed and seven passengers, including six pupils, are injured when the driver loses control and crashes into a lamp post.

May 9, 2013

A driver of a school bus is taken into police custody following an accident that leaves a Grade 7 Syrian pupil seriously injured.

June 21, 2011

Two schoolchildren sustain severe injuries when they are run over by their school bus at their school in Al Ghusais, Dubai.

June 14, 2011

Some 35 schoolchildren have a providential escape when their school bus collides with a smaller passenger vehicle on Shaikh Zayed Road in Dubai.

May 14, 2009

Aimen Zeeshan, a four-and-a-half-year-old Pakistani girl, dies after allegedly being left locked inside a private school bus in Musaffah, Abu Dhabi.

May 4, 2009

A school bus carrying 61 pupils is involved in a collision with a car resulting in both vehicles catching fire on Shaikh Rashid Bin Saqr Al Qasimi Road, near Cultural Square, Sharjah. No injuries are reported.

April 24, 2008

Aathish Shabin, a four-year-old Indian boy dies after being left in a school bus for three hours in Abu Dhabi.

April 22, 2008

Four-year-old Aathish, a student of KG1 in Abu Dhabi, dies in a school bus after apparent suffocation.

April 6, 2008

A negligent school bus driver crushes to death W.A.G., a three-year-old kindergarten student, when the child stumbles and falls in Al Ain.

March 2, 2008

A school bus runs over a five-year-old girl moments after she gets off the vehicle, killing her on the spot. Yasmin Ramadan from Egypt was returning from her evening classes in Al Garhoud, Dubai.

By Faisal Masudi Samihah Zaman Shafaat Shahbandari Staff Reporters

Gulf News 2016. All rights reserved.

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