Anxiety about overcrowded vehicles, traffic bottlenecks, road safety of children resurface

Rows of vehicles parked along road margins, groups of students with heavy school bags crossing the road, children turning around to see their parents waving at them – these maybe regular sights at the time schools reopen. With every new academic year, anxiety about overcrowded vehicles, traffic bottlenecks and road safety of school children resurface.

According to Sanjay Arora, Additional Commissioner of Police (Traffic), additional personnel have been posted around school zones to regulate traffic during peak hours. “We have also begun checking vehicles for overcrowding. All vehicles transporting school children are expected to adhere to the prescribed guidelines,” he said.

According to records of the Chennai City Traffic Police, in 2009, the city witnessed 18 accidents involving students on their way to school and two of them were fatalities. In 2010, two out of the 17 road accidents in the city that involved school students, were fatal.

Periodically, guidelines were issued to schools to enhance road safety. While school managements were asked to ensure their buses were painted yellow, all vehicles used for school students' transportation have to indicate that students are travelling.

Schools, while acknowledging the support of the traffic police, also observe that a lot more help is needed to regulate traffic. V. Suma Padmanabhan, Principal, Asan Memorial Senior Secondary School says: “Members of our Road Safety Patrol wing also help out when the school opens and closes, but sometimes the private vans get parked haphazardly, adding to the confusion.” Autorickshaws, often seen transporting more children than they can accommodate, are another problem. Heads of schools note that parents chose the option as it is cheaper.

Asan Memorial will soon convene its first Parent-Teacher Association meeting. “We are planning to request parents who have not opted for the school bus to consider options like car pooling. It might make a considerable difference,” she adds.

Traffic is not necessarily caused by vehicles transporting students alone. Students of Government Middle School in Ernavur have a tough time crossing the road and have to be very careful. K.Anbukumar, a resident who helps the PTA of the school said, “The container lorry traffic during peak hours is too heavy. There are police personnel sometimes, but how can they address the issue of container lorry traffic?”

With almost all the children coming to the school using public transport, largely buses, there is no question of vehicular traffic because of the school, he notes. “Something has to be done to make the school zone safer. Children studying there come from very modest backgrounds and usually, parents who are daily wage labourers cannot escort them to school,” he adds.

Students feel better enforcement and enhanced presence of traffic police personnel around school zones will help. Suganth Srinivash, a class XII student of Maharishi Vidya Mandir, says: “Some students tend to travel on the footboard. It should be avoided. If the traffic police presence along arterial roads and near school zones is increased, it will help curb such practices.”

But to those parents who can afford to make a choice in transportation of their children, this is what schools have to say: “Discourage two-wheelers.”

Though it is illegal for persons under 18 years of age to ride two-wheelers, many parents think it is a cheap option, particularly for students in higher classes who might have tuition classes in the morning. “We have completely banned students from commuting by two-wheelers to school. However, in some cases, we find the children cleverly parking their bikes in the neighbouring lanes and walking from there,” Ms. Padmanabhan adds.

On some parents' recent enquiry about whether they could send their wards in e-bikes, she said: “We said we would not allow that as well. Parents have to cooperate with schools in ensuring safety of students.”