Saturday, June 29, 2002
G O O D  M O T O R I N G

Prioritise safety of school buses
H. Kishie Singh

The bars on the windows make an emergency exit impossible
The bars on the windows make an emergency exit impossible

EVERY now and then we see photographs in newspapers of a rickshaw ferrying children to school. There could be a dozen or so small children crammed like sardines in a can into the rickshaw cycle or auto. The difference is the can is safer, at least it is sealed.

The children sit precariously balanced on the vehicle and to add to the danger, they hang their bags behind and on the side of the rickshaw, making it almost as wide as a truck.

I have once narrowly missed a child that had fallen out of a rickshaw. It happened on the right-hand corner of a road. The auto rickshaw took the turn, a trifle too fast, and suddenly there was a little body, rolling over and over right in front of my car. Braking would not have helped; there was not enough distance and since I was also negotiating the turn, the weight of the car was on the two left wheels, and as such braking hard would have caused the car to skid. The child was also rolling to the left.


The only thing to do was to take evasive action. I braked gently and sharply turned the steering wheel to the right, scraped a 2-wheeler and thought better that than the child. I hit the pavement, climbed on it and came to a halt with two wheels on the pavement. Most important, I had saved the child. The pavement was not high enough to damage the car. A 30-cm-high RCC pavement will hit the bumper and damage the steering and suspension.

I was very lucky, so was the child. He staggered to his feet, not bleeding badly, but bruised and shaken.

So, rickshaws are dangerous. The next and only option is the school bus. While I was talking to some school children the other day, one of the girls came up with a pertinent point. "Sir", she said, "whenI sit next to the window in the bus I notice that there are two bars running across the length of the windows. How do I get out of the bus in an emergency?"

A very good question.

These bars are put up to protect the glass is it more important than a child? And they are installed at the whims of the owners and manufacturers. Not an iota of thought is given to the safety of passengers. This is because there are no clear-cut rules and instructions for the manufacturers of bus bodies.

Note the accompanying photograph. The bars on the side would make an emergency exit impossible. There seems to be an emergency exit through the rear center window. The side windows are fixed. In any case the left window has a ladder in front of it. Even if you were able to kick open the window, the exit would still be blocked. The ladder runs along the length of the emergency window. In case of a rear collision, the ladder, usually a shoddy hollow pipe affair, would be crushed out of shape. Even if it were to move a millimeter to the right it would not allow the emergency window to swing open.

It is time someone addressed the problem of this disaster waiting to happen.

High-mounted rear lights are the latest in safety of the new breed of cars. In addition to the normal brake lights on the rear, these days cars come with a third light mounted high on the rear windshield. The reason: better visibility for the two or three or may be four cars following the vehicle. Also low-mounted lights get plastered with mud and slush, and this reduces their efficiency and decreases the distance they can be seen from. High-mounted lights stay comparatively slush-free and are, thus, visible from a longer distance.

The rear lights on the bus supplied by local manufacturers are not just inexpensive, they are cheap. That is why they seldom work. School buses should have high-mounted lights so that they may be visible at longer distances. The lights should stay on while the bus is in motion and flash amber intermittently while the bus is stationary, warning drivers to watch out. Children may suddenly run across the road. If this happens, come to a dead halt at least give children, senior citizens and other privileged people right of way. All of this calls for self-discipline, auto-sense and good motoring.

Another safety factor being ignored is the seating inside the vehicles. Tests have shown that the secondary impact i.e. passengers being thrown about inside the vehicle, can cause severe injuries. Hence, the seat belts.

The rear of the seats should be padded on both sides. The interior for comfort and exterior for absorbing the impact in case of a collision. Usually, there is a steel sheet with a steel rod as handrail staring you in the face. If one were to hit it, it would cause serious injuries. A padded surface would be of some help.

Happy motoring!