x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Making road safety second nature

School bus safety initiatives underway will help teach children how to behave safely in and around vehicles. Hopefully, these lessons rub off on the rest of us.

It should go without saying that the safety of our children must be afforded the highest possible priority, both at family and national levels. But saying it is one thing, doing something about it is another.

If anybody in the UAE had been complacent about the road-safety risks faced by young children, then that complacency would have been shaken in October 2011, when a three-year-old girl was crushed by a school bus in Mirba, Fujairah. The girl had been sitting on the road, waiting for her sister to arrive home from school, and she could not be seen by the bus driver.

A lot has been happening since then, and this week saw a gathering of experts in Dubai for the International School Transport Conference and Exhibition, where initiatives and technologies to prevent similar tragedies were discussed and demonstrated.

On Tuesday, conference delegates and visitors were taken to Al Qayim School in Al Barsha to view Emirates Transport's "Golden Base" programme in action. Inspired by measures in place in the US, Dubai transport authorities have installed a system at 400 schools aimed at ensuring the safety of children as they get on and off school buses.

Coloured markings on the ground at the bus stop identify danger areas around the vehicle and show children the correct way to disembark. The children are taught that red and yellow road markings indicate different levels of danger, and they are instructed to take 10 steps away from the yellow zone as soon as they get off a bus.

But road markings can only achieve so much, and no safety initiative will work without children being taught how to behave safely in and around vehicles. Road-safety awareness must be made second nature.

And this knowledge must extend beyond the rules for catching the school bus. There are many more dangers to life and limb on the UAE's roads. Rarely does a day go by without fatal accidents that could have been prevented or minimised. Pedestrians and motorists alike need to be aware of the rules of the road. Whether travelling on roads or crossing over them, preventive measures such as seat belts must be heeded. For pedestrians, this could mean simply looking both ways before crossing.

As welcome as this school bus-safety system is, it is not an end in itself. It must be seen as a step in an ongoing project to ensure every child, and every adult, gets to where they are going without injury.