x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Calls for improved safety after girl, 3, run over by school bus

After a 3-year-old girl was crushed by a school bus, parents, officials and school bus operators are calling for more rigorous safety measures.

FUJAIRAH // A three-year-old girl has been crushed to death under the wheels of a school bus outside her home.

The child was sitting on the road in front of one of the rear wheels of the stationary bus, invisible to the driver, when it moved off.

Earlier she is believed to have left the family home in Mirba, Fujairah, to wait for her elder sister to come home from school on the bus. "She was directly under the tyres and when the bus moved, she was crushed," said Lt Colonel Saeed Al Hamar, head of special tasks at Fujairah Police.

"This small child came behind the bus and sat in front of the rear tyre," said Mohamed Suhail, an East Coast branch manager of Emirates Transport, the bus operator.

"She was so small that the bus driver could not see her with the side mirror. After the driver saw the sister go inside the house, he thought that it was clear."

The company said it had asked for specific drop-off and pick-up areas to be established by the municipality and police, but parents insisted children should be dropped home directly. The bus driver, who has been arrested, has worked with Emirates Transport since 2006. The company said he had been on 16 training courses.

"It is too sad to lose a child, this shouldn't happen to any family," said Dr Mohammed Abdulla, director of Fujairah Health and Safety Authority. "School bus design should be standardised. There should be big, clear mirrors to see behind. Buses should not go into small roads between homes where children run around.

"Every bus should have a responsible supervisor who gives the green light to move or stop. Families must also be aware. Most important, we must have a safety culture so it's everyone's responsibility."

Yousef Ismail, vice chairman of RAK Transport Authority, said common rules were critical. "I definitely feel the rules should be the same, we shouldn't leave it to schools, operators or each authority to decide," he said.

"Operators must be precise in selecting drivers, supervisors must keep control of children, and parents must be careful."

School bus operators said school car parks and drop-off areas were danger zones. "Most accidents can be prevented if bus operators, school authorities and parents work together," said ML Augustine, managing director of School Transport Services, the UAE's largest school bus operator.

"There must be continuous training and constant supervision until the child is handed over to the parents."

Rigorous training could prevent accidents, said Hussain Norsherwan, a manager at Arab Falcon Bus Rental, a private school bus operator.

"Small children play hide-and-seek behind buses in parking lots, so bus helpers and drivers must be very careful. Kids will be kids so someone must monitor them always."

Officials of the Emirates Authority for Standardisation and Metrology announced this year that a law would be proposed to streamline school bus safety across the country.

The Roads and Transport Authority in Dubai put safety regulations in place in 2009 to overhaul the school transport system by making seat belts compulsory, fixing an 80kph maximum speed limit for school buses and removing folding seats.

Nevertheless, two children suffered multiple injuries in June this year when a school bus ran over them in a school car park in Dubai.

In Abu Dhabi, a child died in 2009 after being left alone on a bus that took her to school.

"I feel for the parents of the girl," said Shahid Mohammed, the father of Shahroz Khan, a 14-year-old Pakistani boy who was struck by a school bus as he was walking in the car park of his school on June 21.

Shahroz suffered internal bleeding and other injuries, and has not returned to school. Aslam Basha, 11, who was injured in the same accident, has also not returned to school.

"It is the worst kind of pain to lose your child," Mr Mohammed said. "I know because we almost lost ours. Why do these accidents happen again and again?"

rtalwar@thenational.ae

azacharias@thenational.ae