OUTLOOK — By Arwa Al Hinaia — Yes, the title says it all. A bus without a driver. Is the bus really without a driver? Is the driver extant, but not really present? An incident that kept occurring numerous times before me was the inspiration behind this article. This is how it takes place: Quite often, as I drive back from work, I witness a bus full of children that speeds and overtakes in front of me.
One day, I decided to drive to the side to be able to have a good look at what is really happening inside. I turned to look at this massive automobile and noticed the following: children pushing and shoving each other. One child was throwing his Kimma (Omani cap) at another child. Another one had his torso out of the window and is trying to swallow air.
Last but not least, the last sight I saw before the traffic light turned green was a little boy making faces at me against the window. I was stunned. I started driving slowly to catch a glimpse of the driver. Seeing who the driver was and the state he was in shocked me more than ever! He was a young boy, probably around the age of eighteen or nineteen who was too busy with his phone to notice that the light had turned green and it was time for him to make a move.
As I drove off, I heard the sound of honking behind the bus. This incident made me wonder, why has no attention was being paid to these school buses?
To start with, the condition of these buses is a matter on its own. The visible feature of these buses should seriously be considered. At the outset, these buses can be considered as ancient. In the scorching heat of summer, the windows are opened to offer some sort of ventilation. The seats that were made to hold some degree of order are unpadded.
The number of passengers exceeds the number of seats available, which results in the children standing on their feet or leaning against the other seats. Not to mention the broken down engines that emits dangerously dark smoke that trails off behind the bus.
I recall a comment made by my American friend who was with me during one of my episodes with a school bus. Her statement was a gasp followed by: “They look like inmates being carried to a facility!” It gave me a feeling of deep disturbance. I thought to myself, even prisoners would be treated with more care.
While they are on the bus, these children hold on to their dear lives when the bus jolts to a sudden stop. After they are dropped off at their pre-arranged location, which happens to be the side of the road, the driver decides to hurry off to drop the other children on the bus who are awaiting their unknown fate. When the child gets off after the driver pulls up, he/she is required to cross to the other side of the road. This act alone puts the child’s life in jeopardy; especially since the other drivers drive ever so recklessly.
What people fail to see is that these children, who are on the buses, are our priceless treasures. They are the nation’s backbone whom without, the nation cannot stand a chance to thrive and survive. Yet for some reason, these children seem to have no value.
During the development of this article, I decided to google a few things about buses in Oman. The search results were horrifying! Not one result was a positive one. It was so sad to see articles about the deaths that occurred due to the negligence of some bus drivers. My question is, why hasn’t anything been done regarding this issue? Why is it taking so long?
On behalf of all concerned citizens, I urge those in power to pay a closer look to this crucial matter. The first issue that needs to be addressed is the age of the drivers who are given the enormous responsibility of transporting our national treasure. Is it wise to hire immature drivers with whom we would feel hesitant to get into a car with, yet allow our children to be transported by them daily? Wouldn’t it be safer to hire more mature drivers who can be trusted to transport children safely to school and back?
Secondly, the quality of these buses needs to be upgraded and monitored. Summer has come early this year and it is not fair for these children to suffer the scalding heat because the air-conditioning does not function properly in the bus.
Also, the number of passengers should not exceed the number of seats, every student must have their own seat and no one should be forced to stand. Another critical matter is dropping the children off at the wrong side of the road. Sparing a few minutes to make a turn could save the child’s life. Why are the bus drivers in such a hurry to rush off? Why aren’t there any proper bus stops where the children can be dropped at and be able to walk safely back home?
The list goes on… however, I am hopeful that change will come and that we will not have to hear any more tragic stories concerning issues that can be easily avoided. Isn’t the safety of our children worth the effort?