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School van on Museum Road in Bengaluru. DH Photo/Janardhan B K

A report by Save Life Foundation, a non-government organisation that works to improve road safety and emergency medical care across India, has drawn attention to our continuing lax attitude towards the safety of children commuting by bus to school and back. Just 3% of school bus drivers in Bengaluru have been put through police verification at the time of their appointment to the job, the report says, pointing to Bengaluru being the most negligent in this regard among India’s metropolitan cities. Bengaluru’s laxity is untenable, especially since the city has witnessed a string of unsavoury incidents involving school and pre-school bus drivers in recent years. In 2014, for instance, a pre-school bus driver was arrested for sexually assaulting a two-and-a-half-year-old girl. In 2017, a three-and-a-half-year-old was sexually assaulted by a school bus driver. There are countless incidents of school bus drivers driving recklessly on city roads. This has resulted in buses toppling over, leaving children injured. What is more, scores of drivers have been found to be driving under the influence of alcohol. They are even known to allow their friends to drive sometimes, which is forbidden under the rules.

Although there have been several unpleasant incidents involving school bus drivers, school authorities and parents have taken little concrete action to make the commute safe for children. Parents can be heard complaining to each other but do little to push school authorities to take preventive steps or action against errant drivers. Many parents do not want to speak up on such matters for fear of angering school teachers and managements. Some are too busy to be bothered about the issue and are relieved that the bus picks up and drops their child at their doorstep. It’s time they also became concerned about what happens during the child’s commute to school. Their silence is enabling schools to ignore police verification rules before hiring drivers. School authorities, in turn, blame the police for delays in the verification process. In addition to dragging their feet on verification of drivers, the police do not take the process seriously, they argue.

When choosing schools for our children, we find out about their teacher-student ratio, the curriculum, facilities, performance of students in examinations, extra-curricular activities, etc. While these are important and merit attention, should we not be paying equal, if not more, attention to the safety of our children during their commute to school and back? How many parents know that it is mandatory for schools to get police verification of school bus drivers before hiring them? Unless parents ask questions and speak up, children will remain vulnerable to accidents and violence during the commute.

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