It's time to act

Talk about transport safety of schoolchildren and the tendency of schools, authorities and other related agencies has been to take the matter seriously only when a tragedy occurs.

For instance, the case of a mini school bus accident near Tindlu Gate in December 2010, which claimed the life of a 13-year-old student and injured several others.

School authorities, the education department and the transport department opened rule books to check what went wrong and who should be punished, only after the public outrage over the incident.

As civic expert Dr A S Kodanda Pani points out, what we lack in our system is regular monitoring of school transport vehicles, both from the school management side as well as the government side.

For the same reason, tragedies keep repeating even though there are set guidelines in various Acts and also from the Supreme Court regarding ensuring safety of children during their transportation from home to school and back.

Transport expert Radhakrishna M N says that after two tragic school van accidents in Kerala in 2011, there has been a recent amendment to the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 in that State.

One of the interesting guidelines is that a driver fined even once for overspeeding, drunk-driving or dangerous driving should not be employed in a school vehicle. A driver fined more than twice in a year for offences such as jumping the signal or violating lane discipline should not be allowed to drive a vehicle. Similar stringent norms need to be replicated in Karnataka also, he adds.

Radhakrishnan says a fire extinguisher, a well-maintained first-aid box, ample space under the seats to keep school bags safe, and qualified attendants are must in a school vehicle transporting children.

A costly affair

Some schools say ‘no’ to student transport and put the onus on parents, because managements think transport is a costly affair, says Pani. Having no choice, parents resort to not-so-professional transport agencies to ferry their children to school and there is more risk of accidents in such cases, he adds.

With another academic season having just begun, the agencies concerned should have initiated safety campaigns targeted at schoolchildren. Transport Commissioner T Shyam Bhat says there are no such plans, as of now.

“However, we are always ready to act if we receive any complaints regarding violations of the Supreme Court guidelines or the Motor Vehicles Act for that matter,” he says.

Bhat observes that whenever the department initiated similar drives against violations, there were outcries by school managements as well as transport agencies complaining of harassment.

“What we do is just following the court or government orders. There needs to be more awareness among school managements in this regard as our ultimate goal is to ensure safety of children,” he contends.

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