x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Dubai school buses get safety makeover

Drivers will soon require a special permit, schools must provide supervisors, and all school buses must be registered.

The new directives will come into force on Monday, in time for the new school year.
The new directives will come into force on Monday, in time for the new school year.

DUBAI // New rules and regulations governing school buses, their drivers and operators will be introduced next week to improve safety for the 100,000 children who travel to school on public transport. The legal measures announced today by the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA), which regulates school buses, include the requirement that drivers must be licensed and hold a special permit, valid for one year and obtainable only on successful completion of a training course. In addition, all school buses will have to be registered.

Bus drivers will not be issued with a permit unless they are free of drugs and alcohol and have no criminal record. They must also disclose any black points they have picked up for traffic violations. Schools and bus operators will be fined if they are found to be in breach of any of the regulations. Under the new directives, which will come into force on Monday, in time for the new school year, Dubai's entire fleet of about 1,200 school buses will be painted a distinctive yellow and must be fitted with speed control systems limiting them to 80 kph. The buses must also meet a set of strict safety criteria, which include having a minimum number of emergency exits, fire extinguishers and first aid kits.

The guidelines have been drawn up by the RTA's Public Transport Agency (PTA) and form part of the new School Transport Control Law, which the Government's Executive Council will officially implement on Monday. The regulations, which are aimed at schools, drivers and companies manufacturing and operating the buses, have been published in a new Dubai School Transport Manual, which will be distributed to all the relevant bodies.

Announcing the measures, Essa al Dosari, chief executive of the PTA, said the new regulations would help to ensure the safety of children using school buses. "We are very keen to make sure that our schoolchildren are safe on their journeys to school and to ensure that Dubai's school buses meet the highest international safety standards," he said. "The manual covers the responsibilities of school managers, operators, drivers as well as students and their guardians. Other chapters include specifications of school buses, offences and fines, and the procedures for registering buses and their drivers."

The regulations are the result of a study of school public transport carried out by the PTA in 2006 and 2007. The study found that 17,651 pupils from government-run schools and 83,798 from private schools in Dubai used school buses. Private schools operate 1,934 buses, while 235 are run by government schools. The survey found that 1,350 drivers had not been specially trained in school transportation and that 613 buses were not fitted with seat belts - a requirement of the new legislation.

Eighty-one school buses have been involved in accidents in Dubai since the start of this year, resulting in one death and six injuries. A key stipulation of the new rules is that schools must provide at least one "guide" on each bus to oversee the safety of passengers. This will come as welcome news to parents who called for such action earlier this year after several school bus accidents, two of which were fatal, which they believe could have been prevented if an adult supervisor had been on board.

In March, Yasmin Ramadan, five, from Egypt, died instantly when she was run over by her school bus as she stopped to pick up her bag, which she had dropped in front of the vehicle. The girl's school admitted staff shortages meant it was unable to have supervisors on any of its buses. A week earlier, two schoolgirls, aged five and 14, who had just stepped off their bus in Ras al Khaimah died after a car hit them. These and other incidents led to calls by parents and education officials for tighter regulation of school buses, including the requirement for on-board safety officers. Mr Dosari said schools and operators would be given a six-month grace period, which could be extended to one year, in which to make the necessary technical changes to their existing buses. The Dubai School Transport Manual includes a list of financial penalties. The fine for operating a school bus without obtaining a permit either for the vehicle or the driver will be Dh500. Failure to meet the requirements concerning the external appearance of the bus - it must be painted yellow with the words "School bus" on every side - will carry a fine of Dh150.