New safety measures for Dubai and Northern Emirates school buses

The safety measures are intended to prevent pupils from being left in overheated vehicles

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DUBAI // Swipe card access, motion sensors and alarms on school buses are among the latest measures being introduced in Dubai and the Northern Emirates to improve safety.

The move is intended to prevent pupils being left in overheated vehicles, which claimed the life of one girl three years ago, along with several close calls.

Between August and October, the devices will be installed in 2,345 school buses and the system will be rolled out in November. It will cover all school buses that service the 100,000 students enrolled in 383 government schools in Dubai and the northern areas, the joint committee of the Ministry of Education and Emirates Transport said.

Emirates Transport said the three measures would work together to prevent pupils being left behind.

Every day, hundreds of thousands of parents in the UAE put their children on buses for the trip to school.

A total of 236,637 pupils in 786 schools across the country travel each day on 4,736 Emirates Transport buses, which provide travel to all public and some private schools. There are 5,336 drivers and 5,509 supervisors.

In the first three months of the year, Emirates Transport’s safety record was generally "good", with only one minor accident for every 321,000 kilometres covered, said Abdullah bin Swaif Alghufli, executive director of Emirates Transport’s school transport division.

"We ensure our buses comply with a set of safety requirements and standards," he said.

Over the past two years, a series of safety measures was launched by Emirates Transport and Abu Dhabi Education Council in Abu Dhabi.

School buses have been fitted with a device that counts the number of children getting on and off. A motion sensor detects movement inside a parked bus, and is connected to a system that triggers an alarm if someone remains on board.

A check button at the back of the bus requires the driver to walk down the aisle and verify that each seat had been vacated before he can press it. Speakers have also been installed to communicate to a child left inside the bus.

The new technology was largely driven by the death of a girl, 3, who was locked in a school bus in the autumn of 2014.

Nizaha Aalaa was in her first month at Al Worood Academy when she was left on the bus on the morning of October 7. Her body was found a few hours later.

"The safety aspects are so very important," said Robert Hodges, a UK-based road safety specialist.

"And as well as various systems already in place, I found that bus drivers and supervisors and attendants duties can be greatly improved by good quality training of the staff plus refresher courses held every six months or yearly. Often the simplest changes, if properly applied, result in very large improvements in safety."

In April 2008, human error claimed the life of a three-year-old boy. Aastish Shabin died of unknown causes after being left alone on a school bus overnight.

Twelve months later, the UAE lost another child, this time four-year-old Aiman Zeeshanuddin, who died of dehydration after she also was left on a bus. And in September 2011, a three-year-old girl whose identity was not released was killed when a school bus backed over her.

"All school bus drivers and supervisors undergo hours of training and awareness sessions," Mr Alghufli said. "On average, drivers are required to complete 10 training courses and sessions per school year."

The courses are traffic safety awareness, dealing with children, parents and the general public, first aid, emergency procedures and fire safety training.

"We take the safety of school pupils very seriously but we also strongly believe that it is a shared responsibility," Mr Alghufli said.

"That is why we endeavour to work with both the private and public sector to ensure the message of traffic safety is delivered."