Project helps make school transport safe

By Jabulile S. Ngwenya Time of article published Jul 30, 2015

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Cape Town – A ground-breaking project to help improve the safety of children travelling to school had shown the potential to reduce road-related deaths as well as a marked increase in improved driver education.

This was the finding of the first phase of the 12-month pilot Safe Travel to School programme which was conducted under the auspices of the Medical Research Council (MRC) and which involved analysing over 1.5 million kilometres of driving data.

The top cause of death among South African children between the ages of 1-18 was road-related deaths, with 80% of these being pedestrian-related deaths and 20% passenger-related deaths, said Professor Sebastian van As, Head of Trauma at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital and President of ChildSafe South Africa during a round table discussion on the importance of road safety and ensuring the safety of children travelling to school which took place in Observatory in Cape Town on Thursday.

Deaths caused by drowning and burns come second and third respectively, he said.

Road-related deaths were preventable with driver education and awareness, Van As said, and this was what Safe Travel to School aimed to do by training drivers tasked with transporting children to and from from school each day.

The programme was the first of its kind to involve school bus drivers and was a partnership between Discovery Insure, ChildSafe SA, Cape Town’s school bus industry, schools and the Red Cross Children’s Hospital. The Department of Transport supports the programme.

A total of 75 school bus drivers were involved in the pilot programme which focused on improving driver education and awareness around driving and the transportation of children. The school bus drivers all drive minibuses – the same vehicles as taxi drivers.

Each driver, before starting the programme, had their vehicles fitted with Discovery’s DQ-Track system which monitored the drivers’ behaviour behind the wheel through the measurement of driving elements such as harsh braking, sharp acceleration, speed, driving at night and the taking of sharp corners.

The findings showed that 27 percent of drivers scored perfectly from their first day of participation in the programme, and that this had recently increased to 37 percent.

The findings also showed that 12.3 percent of the drivers scored in the high risk category, while the remaining 87.7 percent scored above average in driving safety.

High risk drivers had nine times more harsh accelerations events, five times more harsh braking events, 28 times more harsh cornering events while also exceeding the speed limit three times more often.

Professor Ashley van Niekerk, Senior Specialist Scientist and Manager at Unisa-MRC Violence, Injury and Peace Research Unit said: “Overall, learner transport drivers have lower acceleration, braking, and cornering. The majority of them performed well, but with significant age related differences.” Data showed that drivers younger than 35 years old were more likely to speed and drive at night than older drivers who drove four times better than them.

The drivers on the programme also learnt about defensive driving techniques as well as receiving first aid training.

It was important for all drivers responsible for transporting children to understand what good driving behaviour was, Anton Ossip, Discovery Insure CEO said.

“If you know you are driving and being monitored and will be rewarded, you will drive better,” said Kay Jaffer who manages the programme which Ossip said they would be rolling out to a new province later this year.

A school bus driver on the programme, Violet Mkonto, said: “It doesn’t worry me to be under surveillance for 24 hours. In fact I like it. It encourages me to drive carefully.”

Linda Mpani was named as the winner in the Best Driver Category, walking away with a new minibus and a R5,000 fuel voucher.

The 49-year-old Mpani, who hails from Mthatha in the Eastern Cape and lives in Crossroads in Cape Town, was overwhelmed when he heard his name announced as the overall winner and owner of a new vehicle.

Giving a joyful thumbs-up and saying “I feel very good about it,” Mpani added that he had learnt so much during the programme – far more so than in 20 years of driving.

“If anything happens now, I will know what to do,” he said. “Safety comes first, reduce your speed and make sure the kids get to school and home safely.”


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