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Times of Oman - 31.01.2016

MUSCAT: Laws to govern who is fit to drive school buses are needed, said a senior official at the transport company whose employee died behind the wheel of the Indian School bus along with two young pupils and a teacher on board.

An outing for pupils to Bahla ended in tragedy claiming the lives of two Class II children from Indian School Nizwa, a teacher, their driver and the driver of a second vehicle that was in collision with their bus.

Today relatives of one of the youngsters who died, and parents of pupils at the school, questioned whether the driver, who was reported to be in his 70s, was fit to be in-charge of a bus full of young children.

However, a senior official at the company that employed the elderly driver said that the government needed to bring in rules to make it clear which nationals should be allowed behind wheel.


“He was with me for the last nine years after retiring from a government firm. His track record was good.

“If people had concerns about his driving ability, they should have informed the school and the school should have instructed me to replace him. It never happened. So, how can I just remove a national driver from a job,” the official from the transport company said.

If we employ youngsters, people complain they will be irresponsible drivers and if we employ aged and experienced drivers, then people question their ability. So we are in a fix. “The government should come up with strict laws. We are ready to follow it,” the official said, adding that he was seriously thinking of giving up the business following the tragic accident.

Three children on board the ill-fated bus are still fighting for their lives at the Nizwa hospital and according to medics in Nizwa hospital, the health condition of Siya Babu, one of the injured Class II students, admitted to the intensive care unit is critical.

On Saturday afternoon, bodies of Deepal Seth, the teacher and Ruya, the first of the Class II students who died in the accident, were repatriated to India by social workers with the help of Indian Embassy officials.

Mohammed Rafi, a relative of Mohammed Shammas, the second of the Class II students who died in Thursday’s accident, said he was surprised and concerned after finding out the age of the driver employed to drive the children.

“We lost our beloved Shammas. We don’t want a blame game. However, this tragedy could have been avoided if everyone were cautious enough and had assessed the risks of employing an aged driver,” Rafi said.

Akilesh Kumar, an Indian school Nizwa parent, and his friends, who also have children studying in the same school, told the Times of Oman, “We heard that the driver was in his 70s.

Risk factor

“Whether it was the bus management officials or the school officials, they have failed to realise the risk factor in employing an aged driver to ferry children.”

School officials have so far refused to comment over the issue.

Mark Pudwell, business development and training manager of Competence HR, said tragedies like the loss of life seen at Nizwa this week cannot always be avoided, however, they can often be mitigated.

“Too often we hear of near miss and fatal incidents involving school buses and the primary cause for such incidents are human factors. Not only do we need modern and safe buses, but we also need well-trained and responsible drivers to operate them. Only then can the number of incidents be reduced,” Pudwell said.

“Driving a bus, especially with school children on board is nothing like driving a private vehicle or even a large goods vehicle given the obvious distractions for the driver, such as noise, but the safety of those on board is and must remain the primary responsibility and priority of that driver,” Pudwell added.

Meanwhile, Roy Joseph EK, manager at a transport company in Muscat, said he would never take the risk of employing aged drivers for transporting people.
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