x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

RTA to strengthen school bus safety regulations

Stricter measures to be put in place after alleged sexual assault on four-year-old girl

DUBAI // Revised safety regulations covering school bus staff will be introduced in time for the new academic year, a senior Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) official confirmed amid heightened security concerns.

The regulations will include stricter police security clearances and background checks of bus staff, as well as detailing child-care qualifications and a clear delineation of the responsibilities of the school and the bus operator. It will also specify physical changes such as reducing the tint on the bus windows for clearer visibility and mandate that staff do not have a criminal record.

Transport officials said the decision to tighten the rules was taken to protect children and followed an alleged sexual assault on a four-year-old girl on a school bus in an empty car park in November.

The incident triggered widespread concern across the emirate, with parents expressing outrage over a perceived lack of security. Two attendants and a bus driver are facing charges of aggravated sexual assault of a minor in the case.

“Based on what [allegedly] happened with that little girl, we will have more guidelines now to make it more regulated," said Mohammed al Hashimi, the director of planning and business development for the RTA’s Public Transport Agency.
“We are raising our recommendations relating to the school buses. We feel in this sector we must do something. There are existing guidelines but these are general. Now we will make it a clear responsibility.”

Security screening for school bus drivers and attendants is currently done by the bus operators and the schools  Criminal record checks for unskilled Indian workers, the majority of school bus staff, are currently done in their home country and are mandatory for the issuance of UAE work visas.

“We cannot be involved in procurement or the general hiring process, but these new regulations will put things in place and will definitely help,” Mr al Hashimi said.

School principals welcomed the decision and said it would help foster a stronger sense of security among students and parents alike.

“I think it’s a good idea,” said Neville de Noronha, the principal of Our Own High School. “A school runs on two principles, that children should be safe and happy. If the RTA regulations help ensure safety on buses, we are all for that vision.”

Several schools increased vigilance by staffing buses with female attendants or female teachers after the alleged molestation incident. Mr Noronha said that schools would also welcome guidelines that insisted on Dubai police clearance.

“It would make sense to do checks here,” he said. “If a person is caught for misbehaviour or drinking the school may not always know but the police will have a record.”

The exact date that the guidelines will take effect was not clear as they are still in the drafting stage. Mr al Hashimi said they would probably come into force by September. The RTA also plans to include material about the responsibility of bus staff in safe driving programmes it organises for school bus drivers.

“We are now reviewing the material we are giving to the drivers,” Mr al Hashimi said. “We are improving it based on comments we have received from schools.”

Transport authorities review safety regulations annually. The RTA regulations put in place in 2009 prompted a major overhaul of the school transport system with the introduction of seat belts, fixing of a maximum speed limit of 80kph and the removal of folding seats.

rtalwar@thenational.ae