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UAE school bus safety: Tragic death of 12-year-old and school bus fire have UAE parents asking how safe are school buses?
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UAE school bus safety: Tragic death of 12-year-old and school bus fire have UAE parents asking how safe are school buses?

by Tabitha BardaFebruary 22, 2022

Two school bus incidents this February have sent shockwaves through the community and left UAE parents asking how safe exactly are the school buses we all as parents depend on? The first and most serious incident occurred on 15 February and led to the tragic death of an Ajman schoolgirl. The 12-year-old student got off the school bus at around 3.48pm near her home in the Hamidiya area and was then run over, sustaining fatal head injuries. Ajman Police said on Wednesday, in a post on its social media channels:

“When the student got off the school bus outside her house she moved from right to left. The bus driver [drove] forward without paying attention and ran over her, causing her death.”

Officers said the school bus did not have a bus supervisor on board at the time. The driver has been arrested and an investigation launched.

 

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A post shared by شرطة عجمان (@ajmanpoliceghq)

The second incident happened on 23 February in Sharjah, when a school bus burst into flames in the Al Khan area of the emirate.

Sharjah Civil Defence Operations Room received a call at 2.52pm about a fire on school bus and firefighters from Al Tawaun were moved to the site to get the blaze under control, which they achieved within 15 minutes.

The driver and bus attendants had already managed to evacuate all students from the bus before it ignited, so no-one was hurt in the incident, and an investigation is under way to determine the cause of the fire.

With two school bus incidents making headlines in the same month, UAE parents have been left wondering: is my child safe on a school bus?

UAE parents worry about bus safety

Whenever incidents such as these take place, UAE parents’ attention naturally turns to the safety of school buses. Aside from the dangers of possible road accidents or fire, other tragedies that have made headlines in the past include children being forgotten on school buses and suffocating in the extreme heat. These recent headlines have been a frightening wake-up call for many parents in the UAE.  “Hearing about this sort of thing is deeply upsetting for any parent and my heart goes out to the family concerned,” a Dubai-based mother, who preferred not to be named for this article, told SchoolsCompared.com.

“I have considered sending my two children (aged 8 and 6) on a school bus because it would make my life a lot easier, but so far I’ve always hesitated for a number of reasons – and safety is definitely a major one.

Desperately sad incidents like this do make me even more wary of it, although they are rare, and a terrible accident due to a driver not paying enough attention could happen in any scenario – it’s no more likely because it was a school bus.

However, the fact that a fire broke out on a school bus just a week later is very unsettling – although it does seem the driver and supervisor were well trained as they were able to evacuate the vehicle before anyone was harmed.”

For parents who already send their children on a school bus, the bus supervisor is seen as a key point of contact and safeguarding, so the fact that there was not one present in the Ajman accident is worthy of concern. UAE-based father, Ben Lebig, told the Khaleej Times:

“I also have a 12-year-old daughter and she travels by her school bus every day. The role of the supervisors is important as whenever there has been a delay in pick up or drop off, it’s the supervisor who is called. She receives calls or informs us as to why the delay is happening. The driver cannot convey messages as he is driving.”

Jenny Mollon, Senior Editor of Which School Advisor, and mother of 7 and 11-year-old boys who take the bus home from their school in Dubai, is also in frequent contact with the bus supervisor:

“I have the number of the bus supervisor, or ‘bus nanny’ – and I have the driver’s number as well. If ever the children are absent, I message them and say they won’t be on the bus today. They also have a text message system that alerts the parents if the bus is ever running late – although that’s very infrequent.

I do worry about safety to some extent, but I am pleased that it is only a short trip from school to our house, as my boys are the first children to be dropped off. They also get dropped off right outside our front door. I had to personally campaign to the bus company for that to happen, but I do feel it is safer.”

How safe are UAE school buses?

School buses are actually one of the safest forms of transport according to Dubai statistics. Our sister site, Which School Advisor, reports that, according to RTA figures from 2016, there had been no accidents resulting in fatalities on school buses for three years, making them officially the safest form of transport in the emirate for children at the time.

School Bus Safety

School bus infographic from Emirates Transport 2020 Annual Report

More recently in 2020 Emirates Transport (ET) – which operates school bus services for 608 public UAE schools and 91 private UAE schools – rolled out an intensive programme of safety training and qualifications for school bus drivers, which led to a 50% decrease in the numbers of severe accidents involving school buses in that year compared to 2019, according to the ET 2020 annual report. The total number of accidents across all levels of severity remained almost the same year on year, reaching 755 accidents in total, of which 10 were classed as serious in 2019 and only 5 were classed as serious in 2020. Around 90% of the accidents involving school buses were categorised as superficial or minor.

School bus accident figures from Emirates Transport 2020 Annual Report

The initiative Road Safety UAE, which collects data on road safety in the country, does not, however, have statistics on school bus safety specifically, says managing director Thomas Edelmann. “However, it’s fair to say that the authorities push hard for school bus safety.”

A series of government road safety plans and  initiatives over the past 5-10 years have been seeing a positive impact. As part of the National Agenda 2021, the UAE’s Ministry of Interior and local traffic departments have been working hard to reduce the rate of road traffic death per 100 thousand people. In 2018, the rate of road traffic death decreased to 3.83 per 100 thousand people, which then went down to 3.14 per 100,000 people in 2020.

Bus supervisors should be on every school bus

Safety precautions such as trained bus supervisors are a pre-requisite on every school bus in Dubai, according to the Road Transport Authority (RTA) guide for school transport, which contains a comprehensive list of stringent bus safety measures:

“Every school principal in the emirate must appoint a qualified individual as a direct bus supervisor, and provide all students and parents with his/her contacts details. The direct bus supervisor must map out the routes of the school bus, and get them approved by the school principal. The school bus supervisor must allocate seats to students at the beginning of the academic year in co-operation with the school principal and driver, and ensure that each student has a designated seat for the entire year. There should also be a means of communication between the driver and the direct supervisor throughout the trip.”

Meanwhile student safety is at the heart of everything that private school bus company STS (Smart, Timely, Fast) says that it does, and is the guiding principle behind the design of its Smart Buses, of which more than 3,100 operate in the UAE.

As well as internal and external CCTV and hazard-warning safety cameras positioned around the whole outside of the vehicles, the STS Smart Buses also feature a ‘Child Check’ button – which drivers press after completing a manual safety check of the whole bus after finishing their journey – as well as a Motion Sensor, which detect even the slightest movement on the bus after it has been parked, safeguarding against any possibility of a sleeping child being forgotten on the bus. The Smart Buses even have a Driver Fatigue Camera, which consists of a driver-facing camera, mounted on the driver’s dashboard with a full view of his face and eyes. The camera uses pupil identification technology to analyse the driver’s blink rate. It picks up other fatigue indicating behaviour such as yawning and head drooping. Behaviour such as mobile usage and oral intake also trigger warnings.

Road traffic accidents second biggest killer of people in the UAE

However, road traffic accidents in general remain the second biggest killer of people in the UAE, and a leading cause of death of children. Government guidelines and technology are only part of the equation in school bus safety and avoiding future tragedies, says Road Safety UAE’s Thomas Edelmann. Road traffic around UAE schools is an ongoing problem, he says, and parents themselves are often guilty of risky driving that could endanger children.

“Also key to school bus safety is the ongoing training and education of all involved stakeholders: school bus operators, school bus drivers and attendants, students, parents, school personnel, motorists. The entire eco-system must make sure that student transportation is safe.”

School bus safety

School bus safety measures parents need to know about

Obey the school bus Stop sign or get fined
According to the UAE’s Federal Traffic Law, which came into effect on July 1, 2017, motorists will be fined Dh1,000 and receive 10 black points if they fail to stop when the school bus driver activates the stop sign.

The school bus driver faces a fine of Dh 500 and six black points if he fails to activate the stop sign or in case of non-compliance with traffic instructions.

The following is excerpted and adapted from the RTA School Transport Manual:

  • Qualified or trained personnel should be appointed as school bus supervisors
  • A school bus driver should have UAE driving license and he should not have any criminal records
  • The age of a school bus driver should not be below 25 years and he or she must know both the English and Arabic languages
  • All school bus drivers must pass school bus driving course conducted by a recognized agency and his or her driving permit should be fully valid
  • The speed of a school bus should not be more than 80km per hour and there should be a speed controlling device attached to the bus
  • Every school bus should have first aid kits proportionate to the number of seats
  • There should be a manual fire extinguisher fitted in every school bus
  • No school bus should be older than 15 years from the manufactured date
  • Emergency exits must be proportionate to the number of passengers in the school bus
  • Every school bus should have 2-buckle safety belts and drivers should have 3- point safety belt
  • A female school bus conductor should be present on every school bus and be over the age of 25 years
  • No sharp edges should be inside or outside the school bus
  • The colour of the school bus should be painted yellow
  • The phrase “School Bus” should be displayed on the right front and on the left rear side of the bus both in English and Arabic with a font size more than 80 inches and the phrase along with bus operator’s name should not exceed 1500 square cm.
  • An Electronic Stop Rod must be fitted behind the driver’s door with the red lights flashing whenever the school bus sops
  • No bars should be placed externally or internally on school bus windows and curtains are also not allowed on school bus windows
  • School bus number should be written on the uppermost side of the left rear side and on the right rear side
  • Mirrors should be placed in such a way that all sides of the bus can be seen well
  • A cooling system should be there in every school bus, the temperature of which should not exceed 24 degrees
  • There should be a compartment in the school bus for keeping student bags safely and it should not obstruct the movement of students
  • The two doors in a school bus should be fixed with handrails that helps students to get on and off the bus comfortably
  • School bus aisle should be covered with inflammable and non-slippery rubber
  • School bus seats should be allocated to students in the beginning of the academic year with the co-operation from school principals and drivers. Each student should have a seat in the bus
  • Front seats should be allotted to boys and back seats should be allotted to girls
  • No school bus maintenance works must be carried out inside the school compounds
  • Drivers as well as other school bus staffs should always keep up clean garments while engaging in school transportation activity
  • No smoking, eating or drinking is allowed while the bus is in motion
  • Every school bus should be kept clean and tidy

How parents can drive safely around school buses

  • Be extra careful when you around a school bus!
  • Obey the yellow warning sign and flashing red lights which engage on school buses when they stop allowing students to get on or off.
  • You must stop to allow safe passage for students!
  • Be very aware of students appearing in front or at the back of the bus wanting to cross the street.
  • Be very aware of students crossing the street to reach the bus.
  • Watch your speed and be ready to break.
  • On the roads, be polite and generous to school buses, do no cut in front of them and show a caring attitude for the kids they transport.

How students can behave safely on the school bus

  • Pick-Up/Drop-Off: When approaching the pick-up point of your school bus, cross the roads safely. The same is true at drop-off. Never run to or from the bus, but just walk normally.
  • Outside of the bus: Don’t stand in the danger zone (if a child can touch the bus, he or she is too close!)
  • Take your seat: Take your seat promptly, buckle up and sit properly, facing forward at all times.
  • On the move: Keep the aisle of the bus clear at all times. Always keep your head, hands and arms inside the bus. Remain in the seat until the bus comes to a complete stop.
  • Listen and obey: Always listen to the directions of the school bus driver and school bus attendants. They are true experts and their word needs to be followed the same way as teachers’.

© SchoolsCompared.com. 2022. All rights reserved.

About The Author
Tabitha Barda
Tabitha Barda is the Senior Editor of SchoolsCompared.com. Oxbridge educated and an award winning journalist in the UAE for more than a decade, Tabitha is one of the region's shining lights in all that is education in the emirates. A mum herself, she is passionate about helping parents - and finding the stories in education that deserve telling. She is responsible for the busy 24x7 News Desk, our Advisory Boards and Specialist Panels - and SchoolsCompared.com's The School's Report - the global weekly round up of what matters in education for parents which is published every Friday, reviewing schools across the UAE - and features on issues that really matter. You can often find Tabitha on Parents United - our Facebook community board, discussing the latest schools and education issues with our parent community in the UAE - and beyond.

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