x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

International experts gather in Dubai to improve school-bus safety

The conference aims to improve standards of safety on buses and prevent bullying.

DUBAI //Experts from around the world gathered in Dubai yesterday for the start of a three-day conference on improving school-bus safety, accessibility and standards.

The prevention of bullying on vehicles and the need to accommodate children with special needs were among the topics to be discussed.

The conference was jointly organised by the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) and the US National Association of Pupil Transport.

"Between 2005 and 2009, we saw a decline in the number of pupils using school buses," Essa Al Dosari, a public transportation expert and former chief executive of RTA's Public Transport Agency, told the audience during his opening speech.

"This was due to the public's lack of confidence in the school transport system. We had buses that would transport labourers at dawn then go and pick up students, and some buses didn't even have a central aisle - you had to climb over the chairs. Can you imagine how dangerous this would be in an accident?

"Over the course of one year we completely reformed the school transport system and set clear regulations. Over the next three years, accidents fell by 63 per cent, which is a huge number. Now we are seeing an annual rise of 5.5 per cent in students opting for school buses."

Such challenges were not unique to the UAE, experts said.

"In Washington we have about a million students, 10,000 buses and 11,000 bus drivers," said Randy Dorn, the superintendent of the US state's public education agency.

"It takes great skills to be able to handle a vehicle on the freeway and through traffic with 50 kids behind you, and making sure they are safe and there is no bullying or other issues," he said.

The concept of public school buses is relatively new in China, according to Dr Jiao Chengwu, the chief engineer at the Research Institute of Highway in Beijing.

"There was no regulation of school buses before 2011," said Dr Chengwu, who showed the audience a photograph of a child leaping from a moving bus. "Some drivers wouldn't even stop - it was a common occurrence in rural areas for children to jump out of the window while the bus was still moving."

The government only acted to implement stricter regulations after 20 children were killed in a 2011 Gansu bus accident, he said.

The conference continues today at the Dubai World Trade Centre with seminars on safety, technology, student management, and the challenges in managing people with special needs, as well as a special training workshop for bus drivers and supervisors.

malkhan@thenational.ae