After Wednesday’s mishap, both the Transport department and the School Education department have said that they would increase their vigil and tighten measures to check the safety of school vans. However, road safety experts say more can be done by both schools and officials to prevent such mishaps. The death of six-year-old S. Sruthi after she was run over by the rear wheels of her school bus has also raised questions about the safety of school vans and the quality of fitness certificates issued.
Parents, school heads, and experts note that running an efficient transport system for school children involves a chain of responsibilities, and when one link falters, it throws the entire system out of gear. “Safety audits must be done at least once every two months. Ensuring safety should be a coordinated effort between schools, those who run the buses, authorities and parents, to ensure that the bus is safe for the child to travel in,” says Usha Seshasayee, who has worked in the field of road safety transport.
Prescribed guidelines, too she says have to be stringently implemented.
A school head, whose institution has over eight buses and caters mainly to children who live at a distance, says that ultimately the responsibility lies with the school.
“We have been thinking about reducing the number of buses because it is an additional responsibility, besides which a lot is spent on maintenance of school vans and we do not even break even with the money that we charge. We check the vans periodically, ask drivers to inform us immediately if something is not working, and do our own safety audits,” she said.
But with scale, she said it is not always possible.
Another principal noted how less than 20 per cent of students use the school bus and that they only ply within a five to seven kilometre radius. “We had around 15 buses two years ago but we have reduced the number to nine now,” he said. With schools not plying enough vans for all students, most students end up travelling on overcrowded autorickshaws and private vans.
Parents like Lakshmi Narasimhan, whose two children use the school bus, say that it is not possible for parents to inspect the bus, and that as a parent he places his faith in the school.
Meanwhile transport officials claim that they maintain a strict vigil when it comes to school transport and will intensify it.