Pupils are back in Abu Dhabi's classrooms this week, and many neighbourhoods have changed their pace and daily rhythm after a couple of months of tranquillity. Many localities are abuzz as children wait for buses in the morning and return from school in the afternoon. Around many schools, swarms of traffic clog the streets twice a day.
As the familiar transportation routines begin again, many parents naturally think about school bus safety. And this year they may find themselves somewhat more serene and confident, because improved safety regulations governing school transportation have started to take effect in the capital for this school year.
As The National reported yesterday, hundreds of buses took to the roads for the first time with GPS tracking systems, networked CCTV cameras, automatic double flashing lights when the door opens and a driver's-side stop sign. Half the fleet - which totals about 3,500 buses - has now been modified to comply with new Abu Dhabi Department of Transport (DoT) safety rules; the rest will follow by this time next year.
To be sure, parental anxiety never vanishes completely, and when it comes to school transport this response is logical as well as emotional. Buses have proved to be a reliable and safe mode of pupil transportation, but accidents are not unknown. In 2009, a child died after being locked in a school bus in Abu Dhabi. The next year a four-year-old died in similar circumstances. Last year, a bus driver was killed and seven children were injured when two school buses collided. The biggest tragedy in all those incidents was that they were all avoidable.
It's reassuring to learn that the new law will ensure that a supervisor accompanies pupils aged 11 or younger to enforce the rules, and oversee boarding and dropping off at children's homes to ensure they are met by a guardian, and that drivers will be required to have a certificate of good conduct, and to complete DoT training programmes.
There is always more to do. The remaining buses must be upgraded, and more consideration should be given to the benefits of seat belts for children. Also, more can be done to control all traffic around schools.
With the new safety regulations in place, and if parents and school officials as well as bus staff cooperate, the new school year could be the safest one the capital has seen yet.