A proposed law to standardise school bus safety across the country is in part a move to update the regulation of vehicles used by private schools.
Proposed law aims to improve safety regulations for private and public school buses
Officials said a proposed law to standardise school bus safety across the country was in part a move to update the regulation of vehicles used by private schools.
"Currently, the rules applied are old. It is only normal that a clear law applies so that everyone knows exactly what to follow," said Jasim al Marzouqi, the executive director of the school transportation centre at Emirates Transport, which provides all the buses for public schools.
The law will be proposed in two months and is being put forth by the Emirates Authority for Standardisation and Metrology (Esma).
"It would cover areas related to the students' safety, such as the types of bus seats, the use of seat belts and the braking systems," said Abdulla al Muaini, the director of conformity affairs for Esma. The law would still need to be approved by the Cabinet before implementation, he added.
While Emirates Transport follows international standards, private school buses in the capital are managed by their providers.
School buses hired by private institutions in the emirate, for example, are not visually different from public transport, but public school buses are yellow and have a "stop" sign to alert traffic when children are being dropped off or picked up. It is hoped that the new law will unify the two.
Other regulations are applied to public school buses that do not necessarily apply to their private counterparts. Public school buses cannot exceed 80kph, said Mr al Marzouqi. "The buses have been designed in a manner so that they cannot exceed this speed limit."
The use of seat belts in school buses, whether public or private, remains a debatable issue.
"Two views exist," Mr al Marzouqi said. "One is that seat belts would protect children in an accident; the other is that seat belts may actually impede efforts to evacuate students from a bus in a time of emergency."
Mr al Marzouqi said that Emirates Transport chose a middle ground: seats are made of a material that will help reduce impact in the event of an accident. Only the two front seats have seat belts.
Nisreen Ibrahim, an assistant administrator at Abu Dhabi Grammar School, said that seat belts on the private buses the school used could sometimes do more harm than good. "We required them at the beginning of the year," she said. "Now the driver demands that all the seat belts are tucked away and not used" because pupils were hitting each other with the buckles.
Mr al Marzouqi said the public school buses have a far lower accident rate than private ones.
Bus regulations were not the only concern shared by parents and officials. Aleksander Kling, 17, rode a private school bus for six years. He recounted one bad experience. "The bus driver kept ... refusing to stop, until I was the last person on the bus," he said. "The driver asked the assistant to close all the blinds."
Aleks said his parents grew concerned when he was delayed and called the school and the driver.
"When they started receiving phone calls asking where I am, they finally dropped me off, " he said.
The school instituted new procedures after the incident.
At the Abu Dhabi Grammar School, each bus assistant must ensure the bus is empty at the end of the day.
"At the beginning of the school year, phone numbers are exchanged between the parents, the driver and the assistant," Ms Ibrahim said.
In 2008, the Ministry of Education earmarked Dh230 million for school bus supervisors to ensure the safety of primary school children. With the Ministry's help, the Abu Dhabi Education Council financed a project that provided 1,300 supervisors for public school buses for kindergarten and first grade students.
Regulations for public school buses also require that drivers have no criminal record. They also must be married and able to communicate in basic Arabic and English.