Dáil Éireann - Volume 605 - 28 June, 2005
Written Answers - School Transport.
Mr. Perry Mr. Perry
634. Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Education and Science the measures she has in place to address safety on school transport to ensure that no further fatal accident occurs; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [21879/05]
Ms Hanafin Ms Hanafin
Ms Hanafin:Notwithstanding the dreadful accident in Meath last month, it should be remembered that the safety record of the school bus service is very good, bearing in mind that more or less 138,000 children, are transported each day to primary and post-primary schools throughout the country. Comparisons of Irish data on road accidents indicate that the risks of travelling on a bus are far lower than for other forms of road transport.
Nonetheless, safety on school buses is constantly under review, and only last January, the Minister of State at my Department with responsibility for school transport, Deputy Síle de Valera, initiated a warning flashing light pilot scheme on school buses. These lights reduce the risk of accidents in the vicinity of the school bus as pupils descend and where safety research has shown the majority of accidents occur. It is planned to roll out the scheme on a phased basis to other parts of the country following a successful evaluation of the pilot project.
The question of introducing legislation to require motorists to stop on approaching a school bus showing flashing lights is being actively examined. All vehicles operating under the school transport scheme are required to meet the statutory regulations as laid down by the Department of Transport. Where vehicles have over eight adult seats and are more than one year old, they are required to pass that Department’s annual roadworthiness test. No bus which is unsafe or dangerous is allowed on to the road to carry chil dren. Measures are also in place to control speed. Single deck buses with more than eight seats are subject to a speed limit of 80 km/h and double deck vehicles are subject to a speed limit of 65 km/h.
Bus Éireann school bus drivers are required to undergo a pre-employment medical examination by a nominated doctor, and may be subject to ongoing medical review. All such drivers must hold a current driving licence, appropriate to the size of vehicles they are required to drive. The company also provides training to bring drivers up to the requisite standard, if necessary. In addition, Bus Éireann school bus drivers must pass a driving assessment conducted by specially trained and qualified inspectors. Vehicle familiarisation with different types of school buses is carried out on an ongoing basis. Bus Éireann school bus drivers have also attended a disability awareness training course, especially designed to take account of the requirements of children with special needs who travel under the school transport scheme. This course is ongoing.
Contractors’ school bus drivers are required to undergo a pre-employment medical examination by a nominated doctor, and may be subject to ongoing medical review by the chief medical officer of CIE. It is a condition of the contract agreement that no person shall be allowed to drive a school bus if having been requested, they refuse to submit themselves for medical examination, or if they are certified unfit. All contractors must hold a current driving licence, appropriate to the size of vehicles they are required to drive. Bus Éireann maintain a record of driving licences on file for all nominated contractors. Bus Éireann has facilitated contractors and their school bus drivers who drive services under the school transport scheme for children with special needs to attend the ongoing disability awareness training course organised for the company’s personnel. Contractors, as independent private bus operators, may at their own discretion, provide additional training for their employees. Since 1999, Bus Éireann has purchased a large number of vehicles as part of an ongoing school bus fleet replacement programme, to continually improve the age profile and condition of their school bus fleet. In addition, the Bus Éireann school bus fleet currently has some 400 large capacity buses that were transferred from the general service fleet into the dedicated school transport bus fleet. More than 250 of these buses were transferred in the period 1999-2003, and they represent another valuable source of replacement buses over this period. This investment has produced an improvement in the condition of the fleet generally and this fleet replacement programme, aimed at replacing older buses with more modern vehicles, is continuing.
The Deputy will be aware that arrangements are being made by my Department to phase out the three for two seating arrangement on school  buses within the next three years, starting next September.
As regards the provision of seatbelts on school buses, the Department is working closely with the Department of Transport on this issue and these deliberations will be guided by expert advice. The safety of our school buses is of course an issue of paramount importance and I would like to assure the Deputy of my commitment, and that of my colleague, the Minister of State with responsibility for school transport, towards ensuring that our school bus system is as safe as possible.
Dáil Éireann 605 Written Answers School Transport.