Road safety programme geared towards improving scholar transport

More than 9 000 children in the greater Cape Town area are transported to and from school safely every day, thanks to an innovative safe driver programme run by NGO Childsafe SA.

Childsafe SA’s Safe Travel to School (STTS) Programme aims to develop road safety aware, and confident scholar transport drivers, thus helping to make the journey to and from school safer for school children. The programme, which was launched in 2015, currently has more than 700 drivers from all over Cape Town, including the southern and northern suburbs, the Cape Flats, City Bowl and beyond.

This week is also Global Road Safety Week, which runs from Monday May 7 to Friday May 11.

“The programme is a response to the many horrific road crashes we see involving school children,” said Professor Sebastian van As, chairperson of the Childsafe SA Board and head of the paediatric trauma unit at Red Cross Children’s Hospital, where Childsafe is based. “Thousands of children are killed on our roads every year, and in most cases, it is because of driver error.“Often scholar transport drivers have a bad reputation”, he said. “Some overload their vehicles and drive recklessly in vehicles that are often not roadworthy. Our programme aims to help change that.”

The results have been significant. In the four years since the programme was launched, there has not been one fatality or serious injury. Also, research data indicate that drivers on the programme actually drive more safely than the average Cape Town driver.

The STTS programme focuses on changing driver behaviour: tracking devices are installed in each vehicle, and driver behaviour is monitored and analysed. Drivers are scored on speeding, acceleration, braking and cornering; with regular feedback given to the drivers. They are then encouraged to improve on their scores, in other words, drive more safely.

“We also have their eyes tested, and provide glasses if necessary,” explained programme manager, Kay Jaffer. “We check their wellness indicators, offer information sessions on a range of issues – all completely free to the driver. There are other incentives: every quarter we acknowledge the safest drivers with cash and other prizes, and at the end of the year the safest driver drives off in a brand-new vehicle. We’ve already given away three minibuses worth R400 000 each.”

The annual programme where the minibus prize is handed over in a packed hall is an event filled with excited anticipation and positive energy. Winners are carried to the podium by their excited colleagues from various parts of the city. The first winner was William Lottering of Manenberg, the second Linda Mpani from Crossroads, and the third Gamat Roopen from Mitchell’s Plain.

The positive impact of the programme has been impressive: “The data recorded by the trackers prove that the scholar transport drivers are driving more safely than they did at the start, and most impressively, the data shows they are driving more safely than the average Cape Town driver,” said Professor Van As.

Two major projects at Childsafe focus on child pedestrian safety: Walk this Way is a project which reaches out to primary school children who walk to school, their educators and their parents. The project gets children to be alert and aware of the dangers they face as pedestrians. The UNICEF-funded Child Pedestrian Safety Project has two main thrusts, research and advocacy. The project aims to analyse the current situation on child pedestrian safety to enable precise and accurate data; and aims to father policy makers about their findings to work out ways to respond to the dire road safety context. For details, contact Childsafe SA at 021 685 5208.