'These buses carry the most precious cargo'

Sep 05, 2013, 07:09 IST | Fatema Pittalwala

In a bid to improve the safety of children travelling in school buses, the Western India Automobile Association (WIAA) has planned a training programme for school bus drivers

Today, despite a few unwanted incidents, the school buses are the safest mode of transport, to send off your kids to school. In order to ensure their safe journey, Western India Automobile Association in collaboration with the Regional Transport Office (RTO) and the V Citizens Action Network (VCAN) held a workshop for school bus drivers in the city on Saturday (August 31) morning called, ‘Refresher training course to school bus drivers: action for road safety.’

Deputy RTO Bharat Kalaskar
Deputy RTO Bharat Kalaskar

The workshop aims to train 10,000 bus drivers across the city by December. The speakers comprised WIAA’s executive chairman, Nitin Dossa, VCAN’s trustee, Indrani Malkani, Deputy RTO Bharat Kalaskar and Anil Garg from the School Bus Owner’s Association (SBOA). The workshop incidentally was not just about road safety, it also dealt with sensitizing the drivers towards children, especially the girl child. The workshop was attended by over 170 drivers, all from the suburban area. During the workshop, drivers were provided free health check ups and blood tests. In order to make sure drivers attend the workshop, the WIAA also provided R 250 incentive and up to R 1.5 lakh accident insurance to each driver.

Over 170 drivers attended the workshop held at the Andheri RTO. Pics/Sayed Sameer Abedi

Dossa says, “As these workshops are going to be held only on weekends, when they are free, it is going to be hard to make sure they attend. Nobody comes without an incentive. Nobody wants to waste a Sunday or Saturday and so somewhere something has to be done. Today 170 drivers have checked in.

(L-R) Nitin Dossa, Anil Garg, WIAA president Edil J Katrak, Indrani Malkani and Bharat Kalaskar

These drivers are from the suburban area and now we are going to hold another workshop in our WIAA office in Churchgate this week. This is Phase I and we are going to train 10,000 school drivers in Mumbai by December. The next is checking the vehicles. We will ensure all of the safety measures are taken care of, and the vehicle adheres to the school bus policy.”

Podar bus driver Amol Mane
Podar bus driver Amol Mane

Talking about the campaign, Dossa says, “WIAA trains more than 25,000 heavy vehicle drivers on a regular basis. We always thought we should train school bus drivers because they carry the most precious cargo: the children. Cargo lost in an accident can be manufactured again, but a child cannot be manufactured. The rising numbers of accidents has alarmed each and every one of us.

Driver Deepak Chandrakant Dholam
Driver Deepak Chandrakant Dholam

Looking at the current scenario of drivers on the road today, no one is safe. Everyone is rash. When you see a driver driving a school bus with 40 kids at a speed of 50 kmph, that is our concern. So we all decided to come together and start this campaign. When you want your kids to be safe, the driver has to be safe.”

After the intensive two-hour session, enjoying a lunch break, driver Deepak Chandrakant Dholam (26), who has been a bus driver for the last five years, says, “This is the first time I have attended such a workshop. It was very informative and very interesting. I always wanted to drive a big vehicle, and so I started driving school buses. In the workshop they taught us driving rules. I wasn’t even aware of some of them.

Bus drivers wait their turn to provide blood samples for blood tests

So I am glad I attended it today. They taught us how to talk to students, which I think is very important. We are so used to using foul language; we don’t realize who is around us. If tomorrow a child imitates me and learns a bad word it will break my heart. Though the concept of the workshop is very nice, I only feel that instead of having it on the weekends, if they have it every day after school it would be better. That way they can also make sure that all drivers attend and benefit from the workshop. Simultaneously they can finish faster.”

To this, fellow bus driver Amol Mane (25) says, “What they said about speed and maintaining discipline was very informative. They mentioned specific dos and don’ts. And if they are able to reach all of Mumbai, there will be considerable differences in the way people drive on the roads today. They also sensitized us towards the way we are supposed to behave with kids.

There have been cases in the past and because of those cases, all bus drivers are blamed. I do feel bad that teachers and parents don’t always trust us, but I don’t blame them. Through these workshops, they will also know that we care about the children and that we will ensure we bring about a change in our driving and behaviour. I really appreciate the incentive. This will guarantee a good turnout.”

According to RTO statistics, 80-85 per cent buses cause road accidents. According to Kalaskar, the major causes of these accidents are drinking and driving, wearing headphones, driving at night, rash driving, ignoring traffic rules and so on. From April 1, 2012 to March 31, 2013, a total of 169 vehicles, that includes school buses, private buses, auto rickshaws and cargo vans, have been fined for faulting the school bus policy rules and various others under the RTO. The collective sum received as fines is Rs 7,00,359.

Sitting in his newly refurbished second-floor office, at the new Andheri RTO building, Kalaskar says, “Last year on December 31, more than 15,000 people were arrested for drinking and driving. You see, people don’t care about their own safety. They don’t have any fear and so the solution lies somewhere else. In the workshop, we talk about drinking and driving, sensitization towards children, and driving training. We have now started with school drivers which come under SBOA. Later we will definitely move towards the unorganized sector, that is the private owners. The drivers today need to be filled with a sense of responsibility.”

Kalaskar continues, “There are three main steps that should be achieved to ensure each child is safe, when they ride in a school bus today. One is obeying the school bus policy. I can proudly say that more that 99 per cent of vehicles obey the rules laid out by the school bus policy. The second issue is drivers’ training. As you can see, we have started that training. And the third is sensitization of teachers, parents and the school staff who deal with these kids daily. I admit the process is slow, but we are getting there.”

Civic activist and VCAN trustee Indrani Malkani, the brain behind the school bus policy, which came into place in March 2011, says the best way to make a change is if all citizens are conscious and put effort into bringing about change. She says, “So many workshops across the city are held, training the drivers with the dos and don’ts on the road. But the question is not about why we are organizing such workshops, in spite of accidents occurring.

It is more about the civil society. All those who are driving are a part of our society. If we care about our own safety, it will bring people together. There are two things that have to be taken care of. One is the drivers. They need to be provided with the appropriate technical training and expertise in driving safely. The module for attendants is different from that of drivers, and the two cannot be mixed up. Driver training is more technical, but the other is to sensitize the minds and a few other things.”

She continues, “Today is the start of the training programme. We do provide sensitization to the drivers, but the attendants will receive it on a larger scale, whether male or female. As a society today, we are very lax on our safety and unless we are conscious ourselves, it will not reach the drivers. They need to be conscious today. If society demands safety, it will happen and there is nothing more to that. These workshops are so necessary now because bus drivers don’t realize whom they are ferrying across. It is the little children. So driving safely modules have to be ingrained in them. That is why it is extremely necessary to conduct these workshops.”

Anil Garg from the SBOA says, “Other than the school bus policy rules, I feel the drivers should avoid tobacco and drinking, and should maintain their language. As they are dealing with kids they have to be more careful. In order to check their behaviour, more than 700 buses have CCTV cameras. Through this workshop, we are keeping a check on the driver’s technical abilities. But we also have to keep a check on the driver’s mental state, to avoid any unfortunate incident. That’s also one of our concerns. As this is our first step, let’s see where it leads us. Another major concern is the traffic school buses cause. I don’t blame the school or drivers. I blame the traffic department.”

Safety norms to be followed by school buses

>> Each school should set up a transport committee headed by the principal, and include representatives of the parent-teacher association and an education inspector
>> School buses must be painted yellow and prominently display the words ‘School Bus’ on the front and the back
>> Private buses ferrying school children must have a 400mm yellow strip below the windows.
Buses and other vehicles ferrying school kids in the city should not be over eight years old
>> Buses should carry a complete list of children on board with their name, class, address, contact number, blood group and the stop near the child’s residence
>> Every school bus must have an attendant; buses carrying girls should have female attendants
>> If a pre-authorized person does not come to pick up a pre-primary student, the child should be taken back to school and the parents must be called to fetch him/her
>> The bus should have a first-aid box, two fire extinguisher and CCTV cameras
>> It is mandatory for all schools and school bus owners to follow the School Bus Policy
>> Drivers should not use gutka (tobacco) and foul language, while on duty 

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