Starting today, Gulf News is launching a five-part campaign on child safety to highlight the pressing need for greater vigilance on the part of parents, caretakers and the community to ensure that accidents involving children are avoided.
The call has come from safety experts after six-year-old Mohammad Farhan died in the bus in which he was going for a Quran class at Al Manar Islamic Centre in Al Quoz last Saturday.
Bus safety regulations by the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) for schools governed by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) clearly stipulate a basic safety protocol requiring a driver or attendant to walk all the way to the last seat to ensure all students have disembarked.
However, in this case, the minibus did not belong to a school and the driver — reportedly new to the job — failed to notice the boy who was left behind in the morning till the children boarded the bus again after the classes got over.
The tragic death of the boy shows the absence of safety, experts pointed out while providing tips to avoid child deaths inside vehicles.
“It is not rocket science. It is just common sense that needs to be reinforced among drivers and attendants through training,” Thomas Edelmann, founder of RoadSafety UAE, told Gulf News.
What should institutions do?
The unfortunate incident hence signifies the requirement of training by RTA for bus operators who rent out buses for children attending such institutions as well.
“The ideal situation is whenever they transport children it must be in school buses — whether it is for a kindergarten or Islamic centre, summer camp, or tour operator taking children for an outing,” said Edelmann.
The school buses in Dubai are equipped with various safety systems and processes in place and have drivers trained and certified in child safety. These include CCTV cameras, RFID scanning for check-in and check-out and protocols to ensure all children have alighted safely.
Drivers should be given a checklist of their responsibilities to tick when they finish their duty. It is important to make children aware of their responsibilities too.
Some schools have additional safety measures of sending out messages or mails to parents when a child is absent so that parents would know something has gone wrong if the child had left for school.
Other educational institutions, Edelmann said, should at least consider hiring the services of school buses which are idle most of the time.
“All leading school bus service operators are renting out their buses during the extra time they have. If this is not considered, [the institutions] must make sure all their buses are from the same suppliers, seat belts are available for all seats, and drivers are trained, and follow the safety procedures.”
Maryam Ehsani, founder and CEO of Child Safe ME, which works with the security and awareness department of Dubai Police for awareness campaigns and training, said every institution should take up the responsibility of training each and every teaching and non-teaching staff member about child safety and child protection.
What should drivers do?
If it is a non-school bus and without an attendant, drivers can also adopt the simple practice of keeping a bus captain or monitor apart from doing self-checks, said Edelmann.
“The first kid comes on board, you tell him you are the bus captain and you make sure all kids are using the seat belt and check everyone leaves the bus when we reach.”
Ehsani said drivers should be given a checklist of their responsibilities to tick when they finish their duty.
It is considered a best practice of drivers to keep a board stating ‘Bus checked-No kid on board’ on the windshield when they leave the bus after dropping children.
What should parents and children do?
Ehsani said it is important to talk to the children and make them aware of their responsibilities too without creating fear in them.
Kids are very tired in the morning and they tend to fall asleep. In case, they are trapped inside, they should be taught not to panic and to honk the horn for a long time.
With most children here staying up late, they tend to fall asleep during their early morning commute to school, observed Annie Brown, first aid safety consultant and registered clinical psychotherapist and hypnotherapist.
“Kids are very tired in the morning and they tend to fall asleep. In case, they are trapped inside, they should be taught not to panic and to honk the horn for a long time. They should keep pressing it till they catch someone’s attention.”
She said children should also be taught to contact the police for help on 999 in case of emergency.
Ehsani said there should be child-friendly materials in place in the buses for using in such situations.
Asking friends to wake them up when they reach school and alerting the bus driver or attendant if they are sleepy are other steps that parents should teach children to do. Schools assignging a bus-buddy system will help in this regard, said Ehsani.
“It is all about caring…and educating institutions, drivers and parents as we have also seen cases where parents leave kids behind in their cars,” said Edelmann.
The ideal situation is whenever they transport children it must be in school buses — whether it is for a kindergarten or Islamic centre, summer camp …
Dubai Police rescues more than 100 children locked in cars each year.
“Children that we are transporting are our most valuable cargo. We should be very mindful about that and always offer the highest standard of care whether it is in a school bus or family car,” added Edelmann.
THE MAIN TAKEWAYS
- Drivers must be trained in bus safety and first aid
- Drivers should conduct safety checks before every journey
- Always check the tyres, the brakes, the seatbelts and the horn
- Make sure everybody wears the seatbelt
- Count everybody in and everybody out.
- Always check at the end of the journey that everybody has left the bus
- Always have a checklist. Tick them on and tick them off
- Wake up the children who are asleep
- If a child is locked in a vehicle, keep honking the horn
- Call the police on 999 if the child is carrying a phone