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8-seat van loaded with 64 school kids!

(China Daily)

09:04, September 20, 2011

School bus safety has become an issue again.

For everyone whose child travels each day on a school bus, a series of reports regarding accidents involving "school buses" in some parts of the country are frightening.

In Qian'an city, Hebei province, a police officer stopped a "school bus" and found that the eight-seated van was overloaded with 64 preschool children.

It was not the first time that overloaded "school buses" have been found on the road, especially in rural areas.

Specialized school buses are used in a few places such as Lhasa in Tibet, Deqing county in Zhejiang province and Qingdao of Shandong province. The "school buses" in other parts of the country are regular or, even worse, knockoffs.

Regular buses, designed for adults, are not safe for transporting preschool and elementary students. School buses should be designed with special safety devices to protect children.

A number of schools in poverty-stricken areas contract with private companies to bus their students. Some schools do not even know if operators of small vans have the proper licenses or background checks that regular bus drivers must have. Many cannot afford standard buses.

Overall, school bus safety has become a serious problem in recent years, as crashes involving school children have increased.

The number of these crashes could be reduced if the nation had standards of monitoring, inspecting and licensing.

The yawning gap between the educational resources urban and rural schools get is also part of the problem.

Knockoff school buses shuttle children in rural areas while some schools in big cities have yellow buses similar to those used in the United States. And the roads in rural areas are usually bumpy, a potential threat to safe transportation.

To reduce accidents and keep children safe, schools, state agencies and legislators must take steps to improve management, oversight and rules on school buses and drivers, especially those in rural areas. Such action could help prevent tragedies such as recent bus accidents that killed four children in a month.

To prevent these tragedies, lawmakers should mandate qualifications for school buses and drivers.

There are three leading organizations focused on school bus safety in the US: the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services, the National Association for Pupil Transportation and the National School Transportation Association. Our nation also needs such agencies to oversee school bus safety.

The government should not wait for more fatal crashes to occur to take whatever steps are needed to ensure that the nation's children are as safe as they can be.

Parents trust governments and schools with their children's lives. Buses should be shuttling children between home and school instead of to graveyards.

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