‘Having been in Dubai for a number of years, I decided a long time ago that my child would never travel on a school bus,’ says Karen Iley, mum of eight-year-old Rose. ‘This is not because I’m a snob – far from it. As a child I enjoyed the school bus rides that took us down picturesque winding country lanes and through villages in the UK’s West Country. But, in my experience, Dubai school transport services were a different breed altogether.’
Indeed, like Karen, we too have cringed for those poor baking little mites, packed in like sardines with only puny plastic fans and nylon curtains to combat the summer heat. Many times, we’ve also passed school vehicles that were so packed to the gills with kids that their suspensions were creaking. And that doesn’t even begin to cover the drivers who were more suited to the Cannonball Run than the school run.
Thankfully, a year ago the RTA broke its silence on the school bus issue and took a stern stance. All schools in the emirate were given 12 months to standardise their buses with a number of obligatory safety measures. According to the Ministry of Education, approximately 62 per cent of students in Dubai travel to school by bus – which means every day, there are around 250,000 students on the roads during peak times. That’s a lot of kids to consider.
Today, schools have complied with the new regulations and some have exceeded them, by purchasing brand new super-safe vehicles engineered specifically for the purpose. For example, Mercedes Benz have thrown their weight (and 1.8 billion euros) behind the campaign and developed the Sprinter – a school bus with front and rear sensors, passenger airbags, luggage racks, three-point belts on every seat and powerful air conditioning units, plus state-of-the-art stability and anti-lock brake systems for further safety.
Hugo Brinks, school master of the German International School in Dubai, which has just collected the keys to seven Sprinters (each one costing Dhs350,000) believes the investment in safety and comfort is worth it. ‘We are sure our children and parents are going to love this vehicle,’ he enthuses.
However, some parents feel the RTA’s initiatives need to go further. Vijaya Cherian’s seven-year-old daughter has been travelling by school bus for three years, and while she welcomes the measures, she reckons the vast majority of road users are still dangerously unaware of the new rules. ‘Most parents, let alone other drivers on the road, don’t know that when the red ‘Stop’ sign pops out, children are about to cross the road after getting off the bus – so all traffic should stop. Even RTA buses ignore the rule. I think these signs are pretty useless because if nobody knows what they’re for, what’s the point?’ Vijaya adds, ‘I applaud the RTA’s efforts, but there needs to be a big campaign to tell road users how they should react to school buses. There has been loads of stuff in the media about the metro – we all know how to use that, so why haven’t we heard anything about this?’
All school buses must now...
• Be driven by a qualified bus driver who has undergone RTA training
• Be painted yellow
• Have ‘School Bus’ clearly marked in English and Arabic, on both sides, the front and the rear
• Be fitted with a lit, red pop-out ‘Stop’ sign to warn oncoming traffic that children are alighting and angled mirrors so the driver can see all sides of the bus
• Have at least one warden travelling on every bus so that children under 12 can be guided on and off safely
• Carry a fire extinguisher, a first aid kit and have lap belts fitted on all seats
• Not have middle aisle fold-down seats, armrests, ashtrays or other solid fixtures on which kids could bang their heads
• Have emergency exits on both sides of the bus
• Not exceed 80kmph
• Be properly air conditioned
Tell your kids!
Regulations are all very well, but make sure your children know their school bus etiquette for trouble-free travel...
1 Always form a queue to get on the bus
2 Wait for the people inside to get out before you try to get on
3 Don’t distract the driver
4 Be quiet and obey the driver’s instructions while you are on the bus
5 Be considerate while getting on and off the bus – don’t push or shove
6 When you get off the bus, take five big steps away from it
7 If you want to cross the road after getting off the bus, wait for it to move away first