The government’s decision to upgrade and streamline the school transportation system to better serve the needs of over 700,000 students in the 1,000 schools, is a timely and welcome step indeed. Undersecretary at the Ministry of Education for Education and Curriculum HE Hamoud Bin Khalfan Al Harthy made it known recently that the new regulations drawn up would involve all to share the responsibility of safe transport and would also rope in various institutions. The ministry, Mwasalat and Omantel are working together on a trial project involving 500 to 1,000 buses. What is even more heartening is the fact that at the core of the new regulations drawn up for school transport, is the joint responsibility where drivers, teachers, school and ministry administrations and bus operators will have to share responsibility equally whenever a problem arises. For parents this is certainly a major step forward because hitherto accountability of any kind was not clearly marked. It is indeed a relief for parents to know that their wards will be safe and secure once the new regulatory measures are put in place. With such stringent steps for accountability, there is little doubt that the situation as far as security and safety of children on board buses is bound to improve. Although, the Royal Oman Police does not have separate statistical data on accidents involving school buses and school children, their data does include such accidents. Figures show that there were 6,717 accidents leading to 816 deaths in 2014, compared to 675 deaths and 6,279 accidents last year. The stark truth is that these statistics still equate to more than 17 road accidents around the country every day and an average of 56 deaths every month.
Last year between January and March 25 persons, including children lost their lives. Four school children lost their lives in a road accident near Ibri in January last year. The bus was carrying 33 Indian School Nizwa Class II students back from a field trip to Bahla when it collided with a truck negotiating a U-turn. The other fatalities in this collision were both the bus and truck drivers and a school-teacher. To raise the safety and security quotient, there are a couple of simple measures that the school authorities and the bus operators must ensure are being followed. First and foremost drivers must follow road safety and speed limit regulations. Any violation must be dealt with strictly. Care must be taken to ensure that buses are not overcrowded. Each bus should have an attendant and a teacher to see that everything is in place. Punitive action, including imprisonment, must be taken against bus drivers found using their mobile phones while driving. And last of all, the authorities should ensure that all seats have belts so that the children are securely fastened to their seat. A simple step such as this can reduce the risk of casualties to almost nil in case the bus takes a tumble after an accident. Alongside all these steps, selection and competency of school bus drivers and attendants cannot be over-stressed. It is certain that once all these steps are in place, the level of safety of school children will go up substantially.