For liability protection schools must use authorised transport providers

Legal experts say a breach in transport regulations may result in a school and its personnel being exposed to criminal and civil liability, even if it is not operating the bus.

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ABU DHABI // Schools are being urged to use government-authorised bus operators, conduct regular checks on vehicles and drivers, and report any safety breaches.

Schools should make sure that parents understand their obligation and that their children should learn about the health and safety rules, said Ross Barfoot, who leads the education practice at global law firm Clyde & Co.

Mr Barfoot said schools in Abu Dhabi expected parents to educate their children about personal safety rules, and that they or the children’s guardian would be present to take the children home when they are dropped off.

And even though it did not operate the school transport, a school and its staff could be exposed to criminal and civil lawsuits should school transport regulations be breached, he said.

Last Monday the School Transport Executive Committee in Abu Dhabi announced new regulations.

“The regulations are very widely drafted and they talk about the duties of care,” said Mr Barfoot.

“There’s the concept of vicarious liability, wherein if you are supervising or controlling somebody then you are potentially responsible for their actions.”

Clyde & Co provides advice about the education sector to schools, and their operators, investors and developers.

It also helps schools with regulatory matters.

Last year a client approached the law firm about the safety of students on school buses.

Last October, Nizaha Aalaa, a three-year-old KG-1 pupil at Al Worood Academy Private School, died of heat exhaustion after she was left on a locked bus.

The Abu Dhabi Education Council and Dubai’s Knowledge and Human Development Authority have been working for years on regulations to improve safety.

“There had been too many situations where children have unfortunately died on a school bus, and it’s not because there has been a car accident but they had been left in the bus,” said Mr Barfoot.

“A lot of schools would outsource their bus transport to providers but that does not mean they could wash their hands of any liability.”

He said schools were obliged to ensure that they were using licensed transport operators who comply with the regulations.

“If they find out that they are not, they need to do something about it. They need to report them,” Mr Barfoot said.

Should injuries or death occur when rules are breached, criminal liability comes into play, he said.

The school and the transport operator could be liable should either happen, depending on which party caused the incident, said Mr Barfoot.

rruiz@thenational.ae