In a bid to enhance safety for children travelling by private school vans, the van owners association are modelling a school van with lesser seat height and with seat belts. They will soon be presenting it to the Transport department for inspection.

The decision comes in the aftermath of the death of school girl Sruthi Sethumadhavan. “Safety of school children is of utmost importance. While travelling in school vans, children are thrown to the front and get injured if the drivers apply the brakes suddenly. This is because the seats are high,” said R. Kamalakannan, president of Tamil Nadu Van Operators Association.

There are around 12,000 private school vans in the State and 4,000 in Chennai and its suburbs. “When children aged between three and ten sit in the seats, their legs don’t touch the floor. This is because the seat height is now 1.5 feet There is a need to reduce the height to suit children so that they can balance themselves properly,” he said.

“The demo van will have seats of 9 inches height. It will also have seat belts like those found in aeroplanes. It will be submitted to the government soonIf they approve it, it will be implemented in all the school vehicles,” said Mr. Kamalakannan.

The association has also sought an increase in the seating capacity.

“The existing norms allow only 12-plus 1 seating capacity and with this a van operator will earn only Rs. 20,000. This is not monetarily viable as after paying the driver and for salary and fuel, there will be very little left for maintenance,” said K. Ragupathy, state organiser of Tamil Nadu School Private Vehicles Federation of Welfare Organisations.

Officials are of the opinion that it would be difficult to increase the van fees as most of the children are from middle-class families.

“Hence we would request the government to increase the seating capacity to 25 and we will alter the vehicle and increase the number of seats,” said Mr. Kamalakannan. The association is also planning to impart yoga and training in first aid to the van drivers.Many drivers are under stress now as they have to drop the children at school on time and in heavy traffic. So the yoga will help them relax. All vans will also have fire extinguishers and the cleaners will be taught how to use them,” said Mr. Kamalakannan.

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