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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

School buses remain unpopular among parents 

School transport concerns as the new school year approaches

Pawan Singh / The National
Pawan Singh / The National

We're nearly there, the day many children dread and perhaps just as many parents look forward to: the first day of the new school year. Supplies have been bought and name-tagged, healthy meals planned and sleep routines are being reinforced. It is also a time to plan drop-offs and pick-ups and decide whether or not to opt for school transportation. This, of course, brings up the question of school-bus safety in particular and road safety in general.

Opting for the school bus has its plusses. Besides teaching children self-reliance and giving them an invaluable childhood experience, buses allow for a reduction in traffic congestion on the roads and around schools. And let us also not forget the kinder environmental impact that fewer road trips make in reducing our carbon footprint.

That said, buses have not been as popular as you might expect. According to the Roads and Transport Authority in Dubai, nearly 90 per cent of pupils are ferried to school in private vehicles. Two reasons for this cited by parents were the length of bus journeys and the on-board safety of their children. The tragic death of a three-year-old girl locked in a school bus in 2014 and the collision of two school buses in 2016 in Abu Dhabi, as well as the fall of six-year-old girl from a Sharjah school bus in 2016, still cause parents to worry.

But of course there have been new measures in aid of safety. On-board cameras, advanced alert systems, child seat-belts, swipe-card access, as well as attendant and driver education, are but a few of the measures rolled out over the past three years throughout the UAE to improve safety. The new federal traffic law that entered into effect on July 1 also enjoins motorists to be on better behaviour, in order to curb accidents.

Still, safety is an on-going process. There will always be more to do. Next up, perhaps, might be to consider building an integrated school bus system, with a greater number of vehicles, to ensure that pupils spend the least possible amount of time on the road.

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