A 10-year plan to introduce seat belts and safety sashes for regional kids who travel to school by bus was realistic and affordable but other safety measures are hoped to come a lot earlier, a key local member of a safety advisory group said last night.
Former Gunnedah mayor Adam Marshall said it was now up to the government to look at the report his committee had presented yesterday – but he’s confident it will accept the key points it puts up to provide safer transport for school bus students.
Mr Marshall is one of 12 appointed by the government 18 months ago to look into the question of school bus safety in rural and regional NSW and provide the most effective ways to make it as safe as possible.
The government said more than 60,000 students across regional areas travelled on a school bus fleet of 1,485 each day and those buses travelled more than 250,000 kilometres each school day.
Mr Marshall said there were four core reforms at the heart of the committee’s report, which contained 35 recommendations, unanimously endorsed by all of its members.
He said the group wanted the rollout of a phased program to provide buses fitted with lap and sash seat belts for all rural and regional school student bus travel operating outside lower speed urban environments, to be completed within 10 years.
“But we also want a rule that prevents school students from standing on buses where the route includes travelling on unsealed roads or on roads with a speed limit of 80km/h or more which are outside of urban areas, to be implemented no later than day one of term three of the 2013 school year,” Mr Marshall said.
“And we want the updating of the School Student Code of Conduct to place obligations on parents and students to comply with wearing seatbelts, along with other programs to educate and develop safety awareness among stakeholders, in particular motorists who share roads with school buses.”
The committee has also recommended the government prioritise school bus routes and bus stops when infrastructure spending was being allocated.
“In essence, our committee has told the NSW Government that we need to get older buses off the road and have buses operating in higher speed routes fitted with seat belts as soon as possible,” he said.
Mr Marshall said the committee’s inquiry had consulted with a wide industry sector and considered past studies and reviews.
“Travelling by bus for school kids is still the safest way for kids to get to and from school but while there’s a low probability of a crash or accident, it is a high impact one.”
Mr Marshall argued that the recommendations were reasonable, costed and represent practical strategies to improve safety and while they could have called for plans of five years for implementation, they wanted to make them able to be implemented without unrealistic costs and contract restructuring.
“While the main issues and recommendations cover the introduction of seat belts and preventing any school student from standing on school buses, which involve some cost, there are many other recommendations which involve changing practices and policies to improve safety which could be implemented at very little cost or inconvenience,” he said.
A key point of the report also recommends that bus drivers cannot be held liable for students who did not wear their seatbelts.
Mr Marshall said they were mindful not to make the job of driving a school bus any more onerous that it already is, and that the obligation to wear seatbelts was placed to parents and students to comply. Cameras in buses would go some way to providing evidence to enforce the degree of compliance.
The NSW Government will now review the report and consider its findings. It is expected that the government will respond to the report in early 2013.
Mr Marshall’s seat on the committee was provided for a local government delegate and his work and position as the chair of the state country mayors’ association. Others included road and transport operators and agencies, safety groups, medical professionals, and parents and citizens association members.
The parents and citizens federation, through president Lyall Wilkinson said they knew the issues were greater than simply installing seatbelts in every bus.
“However, as parents we look forward to the day when no child will be standing on a bus as it travels down a highway at 100km per hour,” Mr Wilkinson said.
“The government’s obligations are clear: student safety first, no excuses and no further delay.”