As government schools are set to reopen in a few days, the safety of students in buses is of paramount importance while commuting to and from their respective institutions. This is the time drivers, operators as well as other officials fully comply with all the requirements and regulations set for school transport buses to provide safe and secure transport to students.
Even though school buses experience relatively low accident rates as they are among the safest forms of road transportation, efforts to educate drivers of other vehicles may help reduce accidents, in any form.
Sadly, in the Sultanate of Oman, a string of road crashes led to the deaths of multiple students and teachers and injuries to many in recent years with the blame, in the majority of cases, attributed to driver error. Seven children have lost their lives in various road accidents in just over two years.
In this regard, what the Ministry of Education has unveiled in the form of a short film to raise awareness among students on safety in school buses is a welcome step as it would help this “vulnerable group of passengers” to be more vigilant on roads.
Although the two-minute film directly communicates with students drawing their attention to important aspects when taking a bus or any other means of transport to school, the initiative has been designed to sensitise, motivate and train children and school bus staff, on issues related to school bus travel and safety.
While one of the most dangerous aspects of riding the school bus is getting on and off the bus, and crossing the street, the film asks students to wait in a safe place, and make sure the bus has stopped completely.
We are all witness to what is very common during school days: the congestion that harried parents and some hasty drivers bring while dropping and picking up children, several of them, on the other hand, run recklessly to their classes without caring for passer-by vehicles.
Keeping our children safe, especially as they enter or exit the bus is a priority. While a school bus accident can happen anytime, the biggest threat to student safety is when students are getting on and off a school bus.
While school buses are designed for safety, riding a school bus is the safest way for children to get to and from school. Many school bus drivers have been accused of speeding and careless driving.
But there have been instances when school bus drivers place their student passengers at risk by making careless safety errors, such as texting or talking on the cell phone while driving.
The fact is that using cell phones during driving degrades driver performance, decreases reaction time, and increases instances of attention lapses.
In addition, drivers must carry out daily maintenance checks on the vehicles, obey speed limits and ensure they keep to the designated routes as part of the two new initiatives.
Taking required actions and implementing solutions have become the need of the day. Parents have called on the Royal Oman Police to set an age limit for school bus drivers and to hire drivers with at least five years of experience.
Each school should have a written student rider discipline policy to treat a school bus as an extension of the school and define the responsibilities of drivers, parents, and school administrators.
At the same time, bus service reliability and comfort, driver’s driving habits, norms, and compliance with laws are underlying factors that ensure safe transport. Strict enforcement related to the use of cell phones and exceeding the speed limits and proper compliance of drivers with traffic rules would help in improving the safety of bus service.
School authorities should develop a clear safety policy regarding the hiring of drivers for buses and monitoring their behaviour during driving. There is also a need to initiate special training and awareness programmes for the bus drivers of educational institutions.
Finally, the teachers, drivers, assistants, parents, and the public at large should be watchful and vigilant at all times. The authorities must regularly advise children on the importance of adhering to safety measures during the bus journey.
On the other hand, there should be regular sanitisation of the buses as part of the general measures contributing to maintaining students’ health and safety. There should not be room for any complacency whatsoever!