Tuesday’s incident in which nearly 15 schoolchildren had a narrow escape as the van they were returning home in, tumbled into a 10-ft pit in West Mogappair, has laid bare the irregularities in transportation of school-going children.
While there are a set of guidelines to operate school vans such as its colour, presence of an aide and speed limit, which are followed by many schools that operate their own vehicles, there are private vehicles hired either by schools or parents which do not comply with guidelines.
It was one such vehicle that met with an accident on Tuesday and the driver of the maxi cab, Jacob, has been remanded. The investigation officer of the incident said that the school management did not hire the vehicle, but parents of the students from one locality had done so.
According to educationists, most of the schools operating on smaller premises do not provide school van facility. Even if they outsource the school bus services, it is only for areas that are farther away, while the other parents are asked to make their own arrangements.
A Correspondent of a reputed school in Kodambakkam said, “We only have two buses for over 2,000 students. Most parents have made their own arrangements for the transportation. We have informed parents about the guidelines, but we do not know how often they check on the safety of their children. We also see that as many as six-seven students are packed inside an autorickshaw.” However, he pointed out that they do have staff checking on the overcrowded vans and autorickshaws and issue necessary warnings. Parents complain that many schools leave it upon the parents to arrange for the transport. Thus, they end up hiring a private van that picks and drops children from the same neighbourhood. Verification is neither done by the parents nor the school.
Several parents also claimed that schools are not consistent following the guidelines. Preethi Jain, whose son studies in a school in Kilpau, said, “After the recent incident in Delhi and the accident case in Mogappair, a few members of the PTA rushed to the school, to check on the safety measures and the background check on the drivers. They assured us that all steps are being taken but we are not convinced. Many parents suspect that the verification of the drivers is not done.”
Speaking to DT Next, K Periaiah, Additional Commissioner (Traffic), said, “Vehicles carrying schoolchildren should have a fitness certificate. The probe is on to find out whether the maxi cab in question has a valid one. If it does not, then it is a violation and necessary action will be taken. For now, we suggest that parents and schools do not take for granted the children’s ride to school and back home and ensure that they travel safe.”
Prem Anand Sinha, Joint Commissioner (Traffic-South), said that Regional Transport Offices (RTO) have a system in place to ensure that school vans comply with all the safe measures and officials periodically inspect the vehicles. “However, the private vehicles hired by schools do not come under such purview. We are planning to call heads of all schools in our jurisdiction to discuss this issue. We will also hold a meeting at Deputy Commissisoners’ level,” said the official.
S Thamilselvan, who runs a private van service, alleged that though they submitted necessary details to the school management to get permission, the schools fail to send them to the RTOs, which means that schools do not want to take risk, if there are mishaps. “So, the drivers are facing the consequences in the event of any accident. We follow the guidelines laid down by the RTO,” he claimed.
Transport authorities call for greater coordination. M Sreedhar, Regional Transport Officer, Anna Nagar, said that although parents send their wards to schools in private vehicles, schools should record details like total number of students and the vehicles registration number, and send those details to the respective RTOs. “However, many schools do not conform to the such rules and this sometime leads to tragedy. We have continuously been raiding school vehicles and taking action against violators,” he said. Around 25 to 30 cases per month have been booked for violation, he added.
S Velusamy, Joint Transport Commissioner (Road and safety), said that the Transport Department, along with RTOs, runs awareness programmes for parents. “However, many parents decide to hire vehicles on their own, as per their convenience. In such a condition, officials in the RTOs cannot always keep a tab on the violation,” he said. However, they have already instructed the RTOs to monitor school and college buses, he said.
- Buses must prominently display on the back and front that they are carrying school/college children.
- If it is a hired bus, ‘on school and college duty,’ should be prominently displayed and documents about the vehicles should be submitted to the school management.
- No bus belonging to an educational institution should carry children in excess of its permitted seating capacity .
- Every driver of school and college buses must have a minimum of 10 years experience of driving heavy vehicles, and must not have any previous record of traffic offences.
- Name and telephone number of the school and college must be displayed on the buses.
Police guidelines for school vans
- Drivers should wear uniforms and seat belts while sitting behind the wheel. Using mobile phones while driving is prohibited.
- Vans should carry two fire extinguishers (each weighing two kilograms) and a first-aid box. Footboard should not be more than 30 cm from the ground level; vehicles cannot take students beyond permitted capacity.
- Emergency hydraulic door lock should be checked every time the vehicle is operated.
- Drivers should not exceed 45 kmph in city areas and 50 kmph in rural areas with children onboard.
Feb , 2017: G Nethra Shri, 13, a Class 7 student died and her nine-year-old younger sister, Roshini, suffered injuries when their school van carrying 13 children overturned on the Vandalur-Kelambakkam Road.
Feb 7, 2017: A two-and-a-half-year old girl was run over by a school van near Medavakkam when she came out of their house to see off her sister.
June 25, 2013: A Class 9 student, Deepak, died as the private van he was travelling in toppled on Pallavaram-Thoraipakkam Radial Road.
July 24, 2012: S Sruthi, a Class 2 student of Zion Matriculation Higher Secondary School in Indira Nagar, Selaiyur, Tambaram was run over by the rear wheels of her schoolbus, after she slipped through a hole on the floor of the vehicle, at Mudichur near Tambaram.
—With inputs from Vipasha Sinha, Venkadesan S