Questions over school bus safety after string of road accidents

Transport CS Kipchumba Murkomen. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

There has been a recent spate of deadly road accidents involving school buses, despite efforts by the government to address road safety.

In April last year, the Ministry of Transport implemented a night travel ban for school buses and mandated seat belt use for all children.

However, some restrictions, like the night travel ban, were later relaxed.

Transport Cabinet Secretary Kipchumba Murkomen said school vans, buses and matatus that are unroadworthy must be removed from the roads.

“School transportation shall not be allowed to operate between 10pm and 5am in line with the Traffic (Amendment) Act, 2017, effective immediately,” he said.

Murkomen added that all school children must be allocated seats with functional seatbelts put on at all times.

“In the implementation of the Intelligent Road Safety Management System (IRSMS), all heavy commercial operators must ensure vehicles with a tare weight of 3,049 Kgs and above are fitted with speed limiters,” he said.

However, in May, Murkomen reviewed the ban barring school buses from travelling past 10pm noting that it is the learners that should not travel past 10pm but the bus can be used for other purposes outside the regulations hours.

But this is not the first time the government is trying to seek answers to road carnage involving school buses and students.

Major overhaul

In 2018, then Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i introduced a major overhaul to make school buses safer during their daily commute.

Matiang’i announced a series of new measures aimed at enhancing school bus safety. These include painting all buses yellow as required by law, limiting operation hours between 6am and 6pm, and ensuring buses meet safety standards with proper seating and seatbelts.

“This is in line with Traffic (Amendment) Act 2016 which requires all school buses to be of this colour,” he said.

The laws were amended in 2016 following complaints from parents over the unregulated school transportation sector.

Wreckage of Kapsabet Boys' bus involved in an accident along Marigat-Kabarnet Road, Baringo, on March 16, 2024. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard] 

Matiang’i’s proposals were informed by a 2016 report by the Traffic Department which revealed a grim reality - approximately 400 school children die annually in road accidents across Kenya.

The changes would also determine the number of children that a bus will carry as well as how frequently the buses will be inspected.

Other measures have been put in place to try and regulate what and what not school buses can do.

In 2021, Education CS George Magoha banned the hiring of school buses for private events both as a safety measure against road accidents but also as a measure to stem the spread of Covid-19.

“...those seeking services of school buses must get authority from the ministry.”

However, with the change in regime post the August 2022 general election, the directives seem to be no longer applicable.

Last year, Kipchumba Murkomen defended schools for hiring out the school buses noting that some of the buses are purchased by the community and thus would be unfair to bar them from using the buses.

The National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) also recommends that school driver recruitment should involve representatives of the Parents Teachers Association and the school administration.

The authority says the selection and training of school drivers should be rigorous.

School bus drivers should also successfully complete a written or oral test covering driver duties, bus operating procedures, traffic and school bus regulations, road emergencies and crash-related procedures such as First Aid.

However, parents are hardly involved in the determination of such matters at the centre of their children’s safety.

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