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How safe are the city roads for children?

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HOW TO TACKLE? A typical scene of school students hurrying their way into a Metropolitan Transport Corporation bus after school hours in Chennai. File photo: V.Ganesan
HOW TO TACKLE? A typical scene of school students hurrying their way into a Metropolitan Transport Corporation bus after school hours in Chennai. File photo: V.Ganesan

City Bureau

RoadSafetyPart-I Death of school student raises vital questions

CHENNAI: The tragic death of a Plus Two student on Sunday at K. K. Nagar, when he and a group of friends were going to tuition, has once again turned the spotlight on road safety. According to reports, the students were going on their two-wheelers when a Metropolitan Transport Corporation bus knocked them down and the boy was run over. This is not the first such instance, nor is it likely to be the last.

Even during the days when Metrowater's speeding tankers were the most feared, the buses have always been a big threat. It was Pallavan then and now it is the MTC. Whatever the name, the public transport buses have posed a major problem to the other road-users. Despite the repeated claims by the MTC that its offending drivers were being pulled up for traffic accidents and violations of rules, nothing much is heard about the nature and extent of punishment handed down to them.

The latest road accident, indeed, raises some fundamental questions relating to road safety, and in particular, the safety of boys and girls going to school. On the one hand, there is a problem posed by mini-buses or school vans that cart a large section of the student population to hundreds of schools across the city. On the other hand, there is also a growing number of students studying in Standards IX to XII who are using their own two-wheelers they are allowed to drive mopeds or 50 cc bikes. Though the Motor Vehicles Act stipulates that those who have completed 16 years of age can obtain a licence for riding a two-wheeler with 50-cc capacity, very few do so.

Add to them the segment of students using autorickshaws, share autos, and those who are dropped by car and then the huge problem on the roads and in front of schools every morning and evening can be imagined.

In this first piece in a series of articles to highlight the crisis on the roads, The Hindu seeks to discuss the major issues of safety on the roads, especially with regard to school students.

Preliminary discussions with the police, school authorities, students and their parents have pointed to certain basic questions that need to be addressed:

1. There is a case for staggering the working hours of schools through a zoning system to contain the congestion on the roads to some extent.2. Now that the State Government has decided to augment the MTC fleet, the number of buses has to increase and the old ones will have to be phased out.3. The Parent-Teachers Association of every school has to take up the transport issue and evolve a suitable system to ensure safety.

4. Parents will have to take responsibility for letting their children drive mopeds on the roads, or at least ensure that they wear helmets.

5. The transport authorities cannot shirk responsibility just because no driving licence is required to drive mopeds.

6. MTC will have to evolve a more transparent system of bringing to book its errant drivers, to instill confidence among road users and to act as a deterrent to those who repeatedly violate rules of the road.

7. To the extent possible, schools must be encouraged to operate their own buses, with the crew under their control, to ensure basic discipline.

8.The Corporation and the Highways, who lay roads, and all agencies that damage or dig up them, must ensure that the roads are well maintained and adequate warning signs put up where work is in progress.

9. The traffic police have to be geared up to meet this challenge and organise the flow of traffic around schools, morning and evening, in coordination with volunteers from the school.

10. The State Government/ transport authorities have to be more realistic and plan the issue of free bus passes for school students. Instead of merely increasing their number, there must be enough buses to carry them.

Over the next few days, the focus will be on all these aspects of safety. Every life is precious and so young boys and girls losing their lives under such tragic circumstances calls for a thorough review.

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