BHUBANESWAR: Chaotic traffic outside school gates, overloaded auto-rickshaws ferrying children and unruly guardians waiting to pick up their wards after end of classes have turned the spotlight on safety of students while commuting in the city.
A problem peculiar to the city is that several schools are located on busy main roads. Given the low level of people's awareness and lack of adherence to traffic norms, the children are vulnerable the moment they step out. Though there are a few signposts outside these schools, not many people bother to drive slowly near these educational institutions.
Schools claim they are doing their bit to avoid mishaps. "We conduct regular drills on safety issues on school premises to make students aware of the do's and don'ts during an emergency. All students know which places to avoid and the escape routes in case of a fire. But on the safety of students outside the school, we can only create awareness among them and their parents. We are also trying to do this," said Sarat Kumar Behura, principal of Kendriya Vidyalaya 1 located on Janpath. The school operates in two shifts and it has a strength of over 2000 students.
Behura added that his school discourages students from using two-wheelers and prohibits pillion riding. "We conduct periodic training of students on traffic rules. During our meeting with parents, we keep on raising issues such as of avoiding two-wheelers, overcrowded auto-rickshaws and greater use of school buses," said Bhabagrahi Jena, another teacher of the school.
SAI International School, with a student strength of 2100, has gone a step ahead by completely banning students from coming to school on two-wheelers. "We counsel parents to avail school buses. We have a very good fleet of vehicles conforming to all safety norms," said school's chairman Bijay Kumar Sahoo. He added that parents of students who use pool cars are advised from time to time to ensure that there is no overcrowding, check the driver's experience and track record, and also ensure the safety standards on the vehicles.
DAV School, Chandrasekharpur, has made compulsory for its students to produce a learner's licence and show a helmet in case they want to enter the school on a two-wheeler. "Our role is mainly advisory. Apart from the restriction on two-wheelers, we impart awareness training on traffic rules and road safety measures during morning assembly periodically," said school's principal KC Satapathy. "However, parents have a bigger role to play. They should desist from handing over two-wheelers to their wards and ensure that they use safe modes of transport," he added.
On their part, parents said people's awareness in general should go up to respect the safety of schoolchildren. "Very few people stop and let school children cross a road. We are a bunch of such insensitive people. Besides, proper marking of zebra crossings are not done at many places," said Rashmita Sahu, who drops her child in a nursery school at Laxmisagar.
Students said obeying of traffic rules by people in general and stricter implementation of traffic norms by police are important for safety of all kind of commuters. "Why single out students alone. Everybody is vulnerable on the roads because traffic norms are not followed properly. Many people take pride in breaking the rules with impunity," said Lily Rout, a Class VIII student.
Police said they were keeping a strict vigil on vehicles ferrying schoolchildren to ensure the students' safety. "Strictly implementing the Supreme Court guidelines on the matter, we do an annual inspection of the vehicles and ensure that these have first aid boxes, proper window grills, at least one escort inside each bus other than driver, drivers with minimum five years experience," said additional DCP (traffic) Nirmal Satapathy.
"On regulating students while going inside and coming out of schools, the institution authorities have to take care of the students. It is not possible to post a traffic man outside each school to man the crowd," he added.