AS THE case of the tragic Bus Éireann crash that claimed the lives of five school girls at Kentstown, County Meath, two years ago, is heard before the courts, a Mayo parent is campaigning to raise awareness about safety issues on school buses throughout the county.
Liam Costello, of Kilmeena, Westport told The Mayo News that his ongoing concerns about the safety of children on school buses were further heightened when last week he saw a number of children walking around a bus while it was in transit.
“I was horrified when I saw those children moving around the bus. I’m not trying to blame anybody. I just want to raise awareness among parents, drivers, owners, schools and Government,” said Mr Costello, who urged other parents to become involved in his crusade.
Claiming there are too many loopholes in the relevant legislation, he said if he was a parent of one of the Navan school children, he would be calling for the heads of both the Ministers for Transport and Environment.
“If I’m driving down the road and my child isn’t strapped properly, or in the correct booster seat, I can be fined €1,000 and given four penalty points on my licence,” said Mr Costello, who has provided his own booster seat for his eight-year-old son attending Holy Trinity School in Westport.
Mr Costello is also calling on all the General Election candidates to address this issue. “I don’t want lip-service, I want action,” he added.
“I see this as child protection. Parents really need to be re-educated about this. Do they forget that an unstrapped child in a bus, just like a car, is like a lethal missile if there is a crash?” said Mr Costello.
Mayo County Council’s Road Safety Officer, Mr Noel Gibbons, told The Mayo News that he strongly welcomed any initiative that would heighten safety awareness. However, he also stressed that, as the law stands, both buses and taxis are exempt from the booster-seat obligation.
”If everybody else would do what Mr Costello is doing it would be great. But they would have to be careful where these seats are stored in case the children tripped,” said Mr Gibbons.
He suggested it would be difficult to ask a taxi or bus driver to provide booster seats for children, since size was dependent on their age. Mr Gibbons also commented on the difficulty for bus drivers of supervising large numbers of young passengers.
“Everybody knows about the difficulties a teacher has in a classroom supervising around 30 pupils. Put the bus driver in the same position of trying to control them while driving. He has a duty to tell them to ‘belt-up’ but he cannot enforce it. There is a duty on the parents and children to do this,” continued Mr Gibbons.
The Department of Transport guidelines for safety belts in buses state that while ‘Government is committed to enhancing the safety of school transport operations’, school bus operators ‘are not required by law to fit safety belts in their vehicles’. However the minister has committed to investigating ‘the possibility of introducing a statutory requirement to fit safety belts in buses not already equipped with them’. A key condition for the awarding of contracts by Bus Éireann will include a requirement for safety belts.
Mr Costello said he was determined to continue his campaign until such time as adequate safety for children on school buses and other vehicles was given the force of legislation.
For further information, contact Liam Costello at 086 8112249.