Saturday, September 2, 2006

good motoring
Small lives, big threats
H. Kishie Singh

The accompanying photograph shows schoolchildren push-starting their bus. The vehicle is not roadworthy. In any other country, parents would have sued the school and education authorities would have demanded an explanation. Not so in India.

The guidelines for school buses are inadequate
The guidelines for school buses are inadequate.  — Photo by Vicky Gharu

Observe the rear window. This is where the emergency escape hatch should be. Not so in this bus. It is completely barred. As are the side windows. These bars are there to protect the glass from breaking while loading the overhead roof rack. What is more important: A glass that can be easily replaced or the precious life of a child? I will let parents answer that.

This vehicle is a mobile coffin. There’s no escape for children in case of an emergency.

Recently in Delhi a six-year-old girl fell out of a school bus and died. Obviously, either there was no door in the bus or it must have been left open. This again points to an unroadworthy vehicle and irresponsible attendants.

The guidelines for the school buses are vague and inadequate. They must be yellow in colour and have a white stripe with the school’s name on the side written in black, drivers must wear uniform, name tags, etc.

I am sure all the rules are obeyed but in a farzi manner. There are more important points to consider than the colour of the bus or the uniform.

The seats in the buses I have seen are poorly made with welded angle iron seen all over, especially the seat back rests. These should be padded. There is no law or provision for seat belts on a bus so padding of the seat in the front is very important. It will provide some help in case of a collision.

Are the vehicles really roadworthy? Are they safe? Like rally vehicles who must pass a scrutiny before they can compete, school buses should also have regular and surprise scrutiny checks.

Paintwork, name on the sides is all lipstick and nail polish. Yes, they will make the bus more visible but this won’t help in the case of an emergency. Are both windshield wipers working? For some unknown reason drivers remove the passenger side wiper arm and blade, thereby reducing visibility by 50 per cent. This is extremely dangerous.

No one pays attention to tyres. They are your only contact with Mother Earth. During the monsoons our roads are about the wettest in the world. You need traction with the wet, broken and potholed roads. A good set of tyres is a must.

Only one wiper and bald tyres on a school bus is a deadly and ideal combination for disaster.

And the most dangerous ingredient in this deadly cocktail: a diesel engine. You can take it for granted that these buses do not have Pollution Under Control certificates. If they do, they are not likely to be genuine.

The journal of the American Medical Association says children who travel by diesel engine buses are four times more susceptible to respiratory problems than children who travel by car.

It says, “Children are especially sensitive to environmental hazards, yet they are the ones getting dosed with diesel fumes riding to school!”

Such exposure for eight to 10 years could lead to cancer, says the association.

The solution is so simple: CNG-driven buses. And why not low-floor buses? Some toddlers have to be helped up the steps with heavy bags on their backs. Make the buses children-friendly and children-safe. They are the future generation. Somebody give it a thought.

Happy motoring.