Maradu school tragedy: Safety first! Important tips for parents who send their kids in buses or vans

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New Delhi | Updated: June 15, 2018 4:31 PM

More disturbing is the fact that 15 per cent school buses in the state, for which its Motor Transport department has to conduct special checks, have not been complied with, according to a statement by Transport commissioner K. Padmakumar.

Maradu school tragedy, what is Maradu school tragedy, what happened in Maradu, Maradu targedy, india newsThe Maradu Municipality has now been directed to construct a side wall around the temple pond within a month.

“My little boy is sleeping, wake him up please….” are the words of Adityan’s mother. Adityan is the little boy who had died, when a play school van toppled over into a temple pond in Maradu, Ernakulam district on Monday afternoon.

The mother’s cries are a serious wake-up call for parents, schools, bus drivers, local authorities and Motor Vehicle Department officials, with regard to the the safety of children when they are bundled off into school vans.

This is how the Kochi’s school reopening in the first week of June began – with a tragedy that snuffed out the lives of two children and their ayah, when the school van that toppled over on a Monday afternoon. That there were no demarcations to separate the edge of the road from the pond, which may have been on slippery ground due to uncleared grass and slush, is noteworthy. However, following the tragedy, the Maradu Municipality has now been directed to construct a side wall around the temple pond within a month.

Maradu school tragedy: What really happened?

Two playschool children have died, along with their ayah. Their bodies were put to rest by heartbroken families and the tragedy has now raised serious questions about how seriously schools and parents take the safety of children when they opt for school transportation. What kind of ‘safety’ measures are put in place and are parents briefed about it? Highly unlikely.

Local news reporters have cited that an oversight may have occurred in terms of speeding or while the driver took the turn on a very narrow road. Some of the CCTV images also seem to confirm this statement, as per local news reports. Questions have also been raised as to whether schools should have been functioning during heavy rains, given that the conditions are slightly hazardous for buses to ply on narrow roads.

More disturbing is the fact that 15 per cent school buses in the state, for which its Motor Transport department has to conduct special checks, have not been complied with, according to a statement by Transport commissioner K. Padmakumar.

He had added that 85 per cent school buses have undergone proper checks but the school van that had toppled over had not completed these checks. This again puts the spotlight on why some schools are not following the regulations that directly impact the safety of their students.

Other questions being raised are:

1. Are playschools and schools fully implementing the road safety rules and regulations?

2. Are the local Motor Department authorities conducting periodical checks that are meant for detecting any issues pertaining to the safety of school buses and vans?

What measures have been taken so far?

Following the Maradu tragedy, the following directions have been issued by the Ernakulam District Collector to all schools in the district:

1. The schools should register their institution with the Social Justice Department by July 13th.

2. Details pertaining to the number of teachers, children, drivers along with their work experience, have to be made available to the concerned departments.

3. Now all school authorities are being told to affix mandatory safety stickers that are issued by the Motor Vehicle Department before June 20th.

4. A laminated list of students with their names and other details need to be put on all school vehicles.

Those school vehicles that do not follow the directions will find their registration and permits suspended with immediate effect.

Important Guidelines by Supreme Court on Road Safety: Are states implementing these guidelines?

Through several judgments earlier, the Supreme Court has also put the onus on state governments to deliver on implementing stringent road safety measures. For instance, in S Rajaseekaran vs Union of India 2014 6 SCC 36, stringent guidelines were proposed to the states by the Supreme Court, some are as follows:

1. State governments are to notify rules regarding width, height and length of vehicles as well as the size, nature and condition of tyres and take all measures for road safety, as envisaged in the draft National Road Safety Policy that was approved by the Cabinet in 2010.

Notably, the Policy also called for encouraging application of Intelligent Transport system to enhance road safety.

2. The states also have to notify regulations for Traffic personnel to enforce discipline pertaining to Common traffic violations that include jumping the red light, talking on mobile phones while driving, overspeeding Overloading of passengers in autos, haphazard parking by autos, vehicles and government buses Digging of roads by public utility agencies in a way that causes inconvenience to others

3. Overloading of vehicles, a major reason for road accidents, the States are responsible for the enforcement of the laws and have to take necessary action regarding the same.

More recently, in Dr S Rajaseekaran (II) vs Union of India, 2017 SCC OnLine SC 1392, some notable points from Justice Madan B Lokur’s judgment are as follows:

1. All states have to implement the Road Safety Policy and constitute a Road Safety Council and a Lead Agency that will coordinate all licensing issues that also include driving licenses, vehicle registration related issues, emission norms and so on.

2. All states have to prepare Road Safety Action plan to reduce the number of road accidents that are taking place.

3. All states have to set up a District Road Safety Committee for every district, which is headed by the District Collector.

4. Road safety audits, lane driving, training of drivers to be looked into. At least, one Trauma Care Centre must be set up in every district with all medial facilties and an ambulance.

5. All light motor vehicles must go through the crash test by the testing agency to ensure that the crash standards are implemented properly.

6. A helpline number for all road accidents must be provided and people should be made aware of the same.
Following the Maradu school tragedy, the Motor Vehicles Department in the state has now beefed up its inspection of all vans and buses that pick and drop school children.

Parents and Schools: What to Know about On Board Safety of children

For parents and schools, the most important takeaway is to prioritize the safety of their children. As a parent, what is the first thing that you do when your kids are in the car with you? You put their seat belts for them, right? You make sure you do the same too. But what happens when you put them in the bright yellow school bus every morning? How safe are they – given that most buses have no seat belts for the passengers? Are safety/evacuation drills conducted by the school for those children who are not familiar with the safety features?

How other countries are grooming ‘Safety Superstars’ for improving the safety of school buses

There needs to be more public awareness in India about existing road safety laws and regulations for school buses and vans. State authorities, parents-teachers associations and school transportation departments should work together to review existing safety of school buses. In the US, many school bus manufacturers conduct regular safety competitions to drive public awareness about road safety.

Not just that, ‘Safety Superstars’ are felicitated by the local school bus manufacturers. Guess how this works? It’s quite interesting. Year after year, the bus drivers at Kanawha County schools in the US have to show they have undergone at least 18 hours training related to their job. At a district level, this is taken care of through special needs training where drivers are trained how to assist those with special needs, training on student loading and unloading, railroad crossing training and not just that, the schools hold bi-weekly safety meetings with staff and conducts drills on fire emergency, how to disarm a shooter and so on.

Not only do parents and schools in India need to share what they know about bus safety measures, but there needs to be a more streamlined effort to study how other countries are rolling out specialized training for their bus drivers on various aspects such as emergency medical training, essential safety tips while handling students who are boarding, riding or even getting off the bus at busy or narrow roads and so on.

Three-Point Belt in California’s school buses

For instance, consider like the three-point belt was introduced in 2005 for all school buses in California, with a belt around the side of the hips as well as a shoulder harness.

Traction recovery device in New York’s school buses

In New York, over 16,000 school buses will soon be equipped with a traction recovery device. Wondering how this works in terms of safety? It is being reported as a device that is strapped to the wheels of a vehicle so that it can help a driver to get ‘unstuck’ from sand, mud or snow.

Parents, with the help of their child’ s school, must find ways to stay actively involved to make well-informed decisions about the vehicles that pick and drop their children. Simply put, take no risks because a child’s safety is non-negotiable.

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