Tuesday, 11 April 2000
Dáil Eireann Debate
388. Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of children killed in the past ten years either boarding or leaving school buses; and if he will make a statement on the recent warning by the association of general practitioners on this matter. [10647/00]
417. Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will introduce a flashing light system on school buses in view of the number of children killed either boarding or leaving those buses. [10599/00]
The information sought by the Deputy regarding the number of children killed either boarding or leaving school buses in the past ten years is being assembled and will be forwarded to him as soon as possible. The school transport section of my Department is not aware of a recent warning by the association of general practitioners regarding the matter, however, details will be sought and taken into account in relation to the question of safety matters.
A flashing lights system is in operation in the USA and Canada. Regulations in operation in those countries require all traffic, in both directions, to stop whenever school children are boarding or leaving school buses. This is facilitated by the fact that vehicles in those countries are built to a standard specification with regard to colour and advance warning systems.
My Department and Bus Éireann previously looked into the possibility of introducing such a system in Ireland, but found that there are a number of disadvantages which make it difficult to apply that system to school bus operators in this country. Vehicles operating on school transport in this country consist of various types and sizes, ranging from cars to coaches and a large number of pupils are carried on public scheduled services. A high proportion of school buses are provided by private contractors engaged by Bus Éireann and in addition are used for other passenger services. Confusion could arise among road users if some vehicles used by school children have flashing lights, and others have not. A disadvantage is the traffic chaos that could result if other vehicles are not permitted to pass a school bus, especially in urban areas and at peak times. This could render the current situation more hazardous. The safety drill for this would be contrary to long standing safety instructions familiar to Irish pupils. Under current safety instructions, pupils should wait until the school bus has moved off before attempting to cross the road.
Designated vehicles, owned by both Bus Éireann and contractors, are fitted with signs to identify them as school buses, that is the international symbol for school children. Every effort is made to highlight safety aspects. The need for care and the observance of safety rules are continuously emphasised to pupils, parents and teachers, and safety campaigns are undertaken regularly. On school bus tickets, Bus Éireann list the safety rules to be followed before joining, en route and after alighting from the bus. School principals are requested to speak to pupils on the topic of safety on a regular basis, and special leaflets are distributed from time to time, to all pupils on transport.
Instructions to school bus drivers emphasise the importance of safety and includes a special instruction to constantly remind pupils to exercise the greatest care in crossing roads when boarding or alighting from school buses. In addition, a  safety notice is placed at exit doors as a reminder to pupils as they leave the bus.
The whole question of safety in relation to school buses, including the question of flashing lights, will be examined again, in the context of the examination of the report of the joint Oireachtas committee on school transport.
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