On October 10, a drunk man, who was driving a school bus, rammed into a bike and mowed down two pedestrians near Dodda Banaswadi. One of the three victims died on October 13 following injuries. Before the accident, the driver had picked up 20 children from a school to drop them home.
This and a few other incidents involving school buses in recent times, including cases of rash driving, have made parents worry about the safety of children travelling by these vehicles.
According to the data provided by the Bengaluru Traffic Police (BTP), a total of seven fatal accidents and 23 non-fatal accident cases have been booked against school vehicles so far in 2023. In 2022, there were seven fatal and 20 non-fatal accidents during the entire year. While there were no fatal accidents in 2020 and 2021 which were the lockdown years, in 2019 and 2018, there were four and two fatal accidents respectively, involving school vehicles.
Sharat Chandra, a parent from Whitefield, recounted a recent incident where the driver of the school bus his daughter travels in, fell asleep on the wheel. “Within my residential layout, the driver hit a tree trunk which resulted in some children getting minor injuries, including nosebleeds. Luckily, my daughter did not get injured,” he said. He added, “Such incidents show that these drivers are often overworked, underpaid and work multiple shifts or gigs.”
Background check on drivers
Some parents also pointed out that they often do not know the background of drivers and attenders on school buses. “While one driver or attender comes in the first half of the year, by the second half either one of them has been changed, for which we are given no explanation. With no means to conduct any background verifications ourselves, we put all our faith in the schools. However, as a person who also regularly drives, sometimes the way these buses are driven makes me fear for my children’s safety,” said Namitha Krishnan, a parent from Vajarahalli.
School managements, on the other hand, said that while they follow basic criteria like five years of experience, valid driving license and others, everyday checks for alcohol consumption is a problem.
“One in every two drivers consumes alcohol after duty. But we cannot say for sure if they will be hungover in the morning. It should be noted that no school wishes to put children in a vulnerable position. Additionally, parents at the first pick up point should also be aware and check if the driver is stable while the public should also be patient while children are being onboarded, instead of honking or abusing drivers,” said Shashikumar. D., General Secretary, Karnataka Associated Management of Schools (KAMS).
Traffic expert M. N. Sreehari said that underpaid and inexperienced drivers, lack of proper maintenance of vehicles by school managements could also be the reasons why the number of such accidents are on the rise in the city.
Enforcement caught in multiplicity of agencies
The enforcement of norms on vehicles ferrying school children is the responsibility of Transport Department that provides them permits and Bengaluru Traffic Police in the city. Often enforcement on these vehicles is caught in this confusion.
“Because of a few incidents, we cannot generalise all school bus drivers. While we are taking care of enforcement, the main concern is carrying more children in the vehicles than the permit allows. We cannot enforce some of these norms because of permit conditions. All of this should be taken care of by the Transport Department,” said M. N. Anucheth, Joint Commissioner (Traffic), Bengaluru. Officials from the Transport Department were not available for comments.