Mrs. Chinwe Ugochukwu had waited for many years with no child before she gave birth to a set of twins in her 30s.
A doting mother because of the peculiarity of her case, she never let the children out of her sight until they were old enough to attend school.
When eventually they were enrolled in school, it happened that, Mr. Mohammed Abubakar was the school bus driver who had been in the school for a couple of years but parents never took cognisance that he drove recklessly on the road, putting their children’s lives in danger.
Ugochukwu was driving to work on a fateful day when she came across the school bus and noticed how recklessly the bus driver drove the children, with no care in the world if they were children or anyone’s source of joy.
She vowed there and then never to allow her children board the bus and decided to drive them to school herself.
Ideally, school bus driving is not easy; it requires knowledge, driving tests, acquisition of a commercial driver’s license, and series of clearances. Even companies admit that staff bus drivers only receive a few hours of training on maintaining discipline on the bus.
The school bus is therefore regarded as one of the safest modes of ground transportation, yet every year there are school bus-related injuries and even fatalities. School bus drivers want to safely transport their school children and the supervisors want to ensure that school bus drivers have all the information and skills they need to do the job correctly.
School buses are designed to be safer than passenger vehicles in avoiding crashes and preventing injury. Today’s school buses are probably built with safety in mind. They are arguably tougher, cleaner and maintained. School bus drivers are required to receive special security and medical training, and undergo regular drug and alcohol testing to provide a safe ride for school children. And school bus traffic laws are strictly enforced in developed climes.
However, this is not necessarily the case in Nigeria and many other developing countries in the world, where an aversion to due process seems to permeate every sphere of the society.
Speaking with Safety Record Newspaper, the Lead Consultant for Safe School Project, an NGO which seeks to ensure safer schools, Mr. Dayo Ayotunde Oludipe, said that most parents were worried about the safety of their children on school buses.
He said, “As a parent you wonder about the safety of your children as they board school bus. You are hopeful that as they board they will get to school and they will come back safely without injury, harm and all that.
“But the thing there is that majority of the school bus drivers are not trained and with my interactions with so many of them, with what we have seen, most of them are not qualified individuals.
“When you are not qualified, you don’t really know the safety rules and traffic rules to be observed and that is when the duty of care lies on the school administrators to ensure that the drivers are trained and qualified individuals.
Oludipe stated that conducting background checks on school bus drivers prior to employment was necessary but had been mostly ignored in the country.
He said that one of the aims of Safe School Project is to drive advocacy and intervention to ensure Nigerian schools are safe for children whether on the school premises or bus.
“Safe School Project basically wants to ensure that every child in the care of the school is safe at all times, anywhere they are.
“Safe School Project wants to ensure that children are taught what they should know about their own wellbeing at home, in school and in public places such that they know what to do if they are accosted on the street; they know who to call, where to run to.
“Also, there is issue of stranger danger – people you don’t know that are talking to you on a familiar level and there is another set of stranger known as safe stranger, that is, there are safe and unsafe strangers.”
He added, “The unsafe strangers are the kidnappers and people that rob and rape young girls. But the safe ones are the ones children can run to which are the policemen, LASTMA officials etc.
“Safe School Project tends to talk to students, telling them about how to be safe and secured at all time.”
“For instance, the issue of school bus safety reinsures that the driver is profiled, that they keep the speed limit, observe traffic rules and that the condition of the bus is very good.
“Statistics has shown that students can be injured when riding on buses and when they are getting off, which can happen anywhere.
“One of the things that we tell the school owners is to carry out evacuation drill for all students who ride school buses. For instance if there is an accident at all and there is fire in the bus, how do you evacuate the children immediately?”
Oludipe lamented that most schools do not consider it important to organise in-service trainings for their school bus drivers.
He noted, “In fact, majority of them don’t have a clue; they don’t even know that they are meant to train children, speak to the driver and organise trainings and all that.
“Take for instance being in a non-conducive condition or if the bus develops a fault on the road, what do you do?”
“If the bus develops a fault in an isolated area and you are carrying fourteen children, how do you handle them to ensure that they are safe and nothing really happens to them?
“Majority of them have that feeling that an accident could happen but they don’t know what to do. So they need to be trained.”
A school bus driver in the Isolo area of Lagos who preferred anonymity said his employers has never sent him on training on handling school children safely because they did not consider it necessary.
He said, “I have been working with the school for years and we have tabled it before them concerning organising an in-service training as it regards we the drivers in the school but they will tell us they don’t have the resources for that.”
SCHOOL BUS SAFETY TIPS FOR DRIVERS
Look before you reversing the bus out. Watch out for children walking or bicycling to school when reversing out of a driveway or leaving a garage. Walk around your bus or out to the sidewalk to check for any children about to cross your path before you get in the car.
Be on the lookout when driving through neighbourhoods. Drive slowly and watch for children walking in the street, especially if there are no sidewalks. Be aware of children playing or standing at bus stops.
Be alert and aware on the road. Children are usually taught to look both ways before crossing a street, but they could dart into traffic without looking if they’re late or distracted.
Learn the school bus laws in your state. Yellow flashing lights indicate that a bus is preparing to stop to pick up or drop off children. Drivers need to slow down and prepare to stop. Red flashing lights and an extended stop-arm signal indicate that the bus has stopped and that children are getting on or off. Cars must stop a safe distance away and not start up until the red lights stop flashing, the stop sign has been folded back, and the bus continues on its way.
WHAT PARENTS NEED TO KNOW ABOUT SCHOOL BUS DRIVERS
To help make the school bus ride safe and enjoyable, parents are urged to talk to their child about bus safety. Parents should always remind their children that playing near or running toward a moving bus are always dangerous.
In line with the recent school resumption, parents should always remind their children never to retrieve items that fall under the bus or next to the wheel of the bus.
- Make sure children are at the bus stop at least 5 minutes prior to the established pick-up time.
- Emphasise the need to follow the bus driver’s directions and to follow all bus rules.
- Help children remember landmarks that identify their bus stop.
- Make sure children do not have any hanging objects or materials that potentially could become caught or lodged in handrails or other tight spaces.
- Provide morning and afternoon supervision at bus stops, particularly for primary-aged children