Muscat: The issue of road safety of school-going children came to the fore yet again as a grade one student of Indian School Muscat (Jibroo) suffered multiple fractures after being hit by a speeding vehicle while being dropped to the school, yesterday morning.
The victim, Shalom Titus, had just stepped out of his van that transports him to school every day, when reportedly another vehicle coming in from the opposite direction hit him and sped away. The impact was such that the child was tossed to a distance of at least 5 feet. The man who assists children to cross the road, a teacher, and the staff rushed the child to Khoula hospital where he is now being treated for four fractures (upper arm, hip, shoulder and spine) and is under observation.
The incident again serves as a grim reminder of how much children are vulnerable, as pedestrians or passengers, especially while going to schools. It is even more shocking to see hardly any worthwhile safety measures in place around schools in most parts of the country. A record 182 children were killed either as pedestrians or passengers on Oman’s roads in 2011.
“This is a 28 per cent increase over the previous year and the trend continues in 2012,” said Bernadette Bhacker, a lawyer and co-founder of Sustainability LLC, an Omani social entrepreneurship company. For the past decade, Bernadette has been a passionate advocate of knowledge-sharing and legal reforms to protect children in cars.
She advocates a comprehensive programme for proper zoning of internationalstandards around schools in Oman. “Such an initiative would involve collaboration between multiple parties with responsibility for infrastructure and safety; the Municipality for land use and planning, Royal Oman Police for road safety infrastructure and speed limits, and the Ministry of Education,” Bernadette said.
“School managements need to adopt a more pro-active approach to ensure a physically safe buffer zone around the school for the pupils and to raise awareness among both pupils and their parents.”
It’s also imperative that parents take stock of the situation
“Parents should examine their own responsibility for observing basic safety rules around the drop off and pick zones,” Bernadette pointed out.
One of common mistakes parents do is to drop children on the road side or allowing them to cross (whether at a zebra crossing or not) the road unaccompanied by an adult, especially when traffic isheavy and everyone is in a rush.
“Often it’s the same parent, who carefully deposits his/her own child, who is the first to zoom off, potentially endangering other children in their haste to leave,” Bernadette pointed out.
It is obvious that children, with their smaller bodies and lower perception of risk, are particularly at risk whether as pedestrians or passengers.
“It is our duty as parents and educators to be guardians of their safety and protect them at all times. All too often in the daily hustle and bustle of life, simple safety rules fall by the wayside with often disastrous consequences,” pointed out Bernadette, the creator of ‘Salim and Salimah’ road safety campaign for children (www.salimandsalimah.org).
Bernadette, who has produced and directed several road safety films, and has been appointed Oman’s NGO focal point for the Global Decade of Action for Road Safety (launched on May 11, 2011), said that the areas around on the approach to schools pose significant risks for school children particularly during the high-risk morning and afternoon periods, due to traffic and speeding drivers.
“Because of this obvious danger to children around schools, many countries have introduced a strictly enforced 40-km-per-hour speed limit rule within a 250 metre area of the school precincts. A car travelling at 50km per hour is twice as likely to kill a pedestrian as one travelling at 40km per hour,” she said.
She said school zoning should include prominent school zone signage, 40-km speed limits, speed bumps, flashing light warning system and speed cameras on approaches to the zone, properly marked crossings with adequate signage, trained school crossing guards, drop and pick up educational initiative for pupils, parents and surrounding communities, and separate designated school bus drop off zones with special safety features.
“We have to remember that road traffic crashes are the number one cause of death and serious injury among children and young people in developing nations.
“Tragically, a majority of these deaths are unnecessary and avoidable, often the result of driver negligence. Everyday we witness reckless behaviour of drivers from all sectors of the society, male and female, of all ages and nationalities.
“Speeding, tail-gating, swerving across lanes, flying through traffic signals long after the light has turned to red, often while talking or texting on a mobile, these drivers endanger their lives and the lives of other road users in a manner which would be considered criminal in other countries. Yet, they do so safe in the knowledge that the risk of detection is minimal and that, even if caught, the consequences are few,” she said.