x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Strict rules introduced on school bus safety

Dubai law mandates 80 kph speed control, seat belts, fire extinguishers and first-aid kits, and prohibits the use of folding chairs.

Schools in Dubai could face fines running into thousands of dirhams as new regulations for the safety of school buses come into effect this week. Under the rules, which were drafted last year by the Roads and Transport Authority and took effect from Tuesday, schools or private transport companies operating a bus without a permit will be fined Dh500 (US$140) per bus.

Schools that fail to comply with any of the safety requirements will be fined Dh300, and fines of Dh500 will be issued if drivers do not hold new permits. Essa al Dossari, the chief executive of the RTA's public transport agency, said yesterday that schools would not be able to renew their licences if buses did not comply with the guidelines. He added that authorities would check up on schools to ensure that buses had been upgraded to meet the new requirements.

The regulations were meant to go into effect last September but were postponed after school operators complained that the buses could not be upgraded on time. The new rules stipulate that buses must be yellow, have belts fitted on certain seats, and be equipped with a control system that limits the speed to 80 kph. They also stipulate that school buses be equipped with an electronic stop arm, a fire extinguisher, first-aid kit and an air-conditioning system that cools to 21C.

Furthermore, there must be a designated area to store bags so they do not fall on children. The regulations, which apply to state and private schools, were introduced to address safety problems. Schools have been stopped from adding folding seats to buses because of overcrowding. "Before it was that the corridor was very narrow; the kids could not evacuate the bus on time," Mr al Dossari said. He added that corridors in some buses were so narrow it would be impossible to evacuate them in an accident.

During the 2006-07 school year there were 81 school bus accidents in Dubai, resulting in one death and six injuries. Until recently, school-bus drivers in the emirate were not required to undergo special training or police background checks before becoming bus drivers. "There were no safety regulations at all on the school buses," Mr al Dossari said, adding that it was the RTA's responsibility to ensure that children got to and from school safely. "The minimum safety requirements were not there."

Several Dubai schools have had to add more buses as a result of the folding-seat rule. Vesela Mathew, principal of the Elite English High School, said the school had spent Dh12,000 to upgrade each of its 10 buses and was still negotiating to get six additional vehicles to make up for the now disallowed folding seats, which reduced each bus's capacity from 34 to about 23 students. "We are facing a lot of problems with RTA specifications," Ms Mathew said. "We have had to hire some buses, and the rent-a-car people are hiking the prices.

"What the RTA has introduced is excellent but they must give a little more time," she said. Elsewhere in the country, parents complain that regulations should be stricter, similar to the new Dubai rules. "The children should be comfortable when they travel on the bus," said Helen Tony, a mother in Abu Dhabi whose son attends the Abu Dhabi Indian School. "There should be proper air conditioning. They are too crowded in together, and sometimes for the small children they send small vans, which are really not safe or comfortable."