x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Parents warned over school buses

Drivers must have training and proper equipment, says education official, but reckless behaviour of motorists remains a problem.

ABU DHABI // Parents should send their children to school on dedicated buses and should not use minibuses with drivers who lack proper training, a senior official has warned. The head of Abu Dhabi Educational Zone has warned parents that private companies not specialised in transporting children may not maintain the same safety standards as other operators.

The comments from Mohammed al Dhaheri come two weeks after a four-year-old girl from Pakistan, Aiman Zeeshanuddin, died after being left alone on the private minibus she used to travel to school in Musaffah. "They must have training to take children," he said. He added that the driver "must have a special programme before he gets on the bus so he's qualified to drive a bus with children. "With the bigger companies, they know the role. They know how to drive [with] children, but not any taxi you find."

In April last year, an Indian boy, Aatish Shabin, died in similar circumstances when he was locked in a bus that carried him to a kindergarten in the capital. While some schools have said they have not received instructions from the educational zone before the young girl's death, Mr al Dhaheri insisted officials sent memos to schools each term telling them school buses must have a supervisor on board to ensure the welfare of children.

Aiman Zeeshanuddin used an unofficial minibus arranged by her parents, because there was no official school bus that picked children up from her home in Khalifa City A. Some schools in the UAE operate their own buses, although it is not uncommon for children in outlying areas to travel on privately arranged transport. Others do not run their own buses, but instead arrange transport through outside companies.

A number of schools do not operate buses or arrange them through private companies, but try to advise parents to ensure safety standards are maintained. Paul Coackley, principal of the British School-Al Khubairat in Abu Dhabi, said it would be "a massive administrative burden" for the school to run its own buses. Instead, the school tells parents to ensure buses are well-maintained and have seat belts.

"Some parents among themselves have set up buses," he said. "We try to say, if you're going to use a bus service, think it through." Meanwhile, schools in Dubai are upgrading their buses to comply with regulations from the Roads and Transport Authority that take effect from September. Among the changes, which were postponed from September last year when schools said they could not comply in time, are that school buses must be yellow, that vehicles must not be more than 15 years old and that certain seats must have seat belts. Rules that drivers of school buses should undergo additional training are already in force.

Richard Higgins, bursar of Dubai College, said other motorists had to be more considerate if painting school buses yellow was to bring any benefit. As a safety check, a school official recently followed one of the college's buses to ensure it was complying with speed limits. "He didn't exceed the speed limits at all," Mr Higgins said. "He was on the inside lane. He had these huge lorries up behind him flashing their lights and tooting their horns because he was slowing them down.

"The yellow bus is supposed to make things safer for the kids on the bus. It will never do that because of the people who frequent the roads. They have no consideration for anybody." Nair Surendran, vice principal of the New Indian Model School in Dubai, said he did feel the new regulations would improve safety. "We are in the process of taking more buses to meet the requirements to be ready by September," he said. "Whatever the government introduces is for the betterment. This will definitely help. The safety measures are better."

dbardsley@thenational.ae