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23 November 2006

S2M-4833 School Bus Safety

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 23 November 2006

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:15]

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School Bus Safety

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The final item of business tonight is a members' business debate on motion S2M-4833, in the name of Alex Neil, on school bus safety. The debate will be concluded without any questions being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes that in certain local authority areas in Ayrshire and elsewhere there is a concern about the need to tighten up the rules and guidelines regarding the safety of buses carrying children to school and, in particular, believes that the regulations should be changed so that it is mandatory for a supervising adult to accompany primary school children travelling on a school bus whether the bus is a single or double decker.

17:03

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17:21

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Contrary to Robert Brown's sedentary remark, I have never a driven a school bus. Indeed, I will go further than that and inform members that I have never used a school bus to travel to school—although as someone who was a member of many sports teams when I was at school, I used buses to travel to many away events.

I congratulate Alex Neil on securing a debate on an important topic that has universal application. Every member of the Parliament should be concerned about safety on school buses; would that every party were represented in the chamber to take part in the debate.

Of course, school pupils use other means of transport that we might address on other occasions. Many kids commute to school by train or—in Glasgow—subway. In the Western Isles, ferries are used for inter-island transfer and in Orkney, in particular, a number of kids commute to secondary school by air. As we are comparing public and private modes of transport, I wonder whether we might reduce the number of kids who are ferried to school by their parents if we required a responsible adult other than the driver to be present in private vehicles—I leave that thought pinned to the wall.

At the core of the debate is safety, both of the kids on the bus and of the kids in the vicinity of the bus, either as they wait for it or after they have got off it—the importance of which an example in my parliamentary constituency has well illustrated. There is action that we can take. Dave Petrie mentioned that school buses in America have external signs that prevent overtaking. We could not introduce that measure because the Parliament does not have the necessary powers, but we could put advisory flashing signs on the backs of buses that said, "Please do not overtake." The "Please" could be in small print and the "do not overtake" in very large print.

Such a warning would certainly have saved the grief and pain of one of my constituents, whose child ran out from behind the bus and was hit and brain damaged by a passing car. All of us will be aware of stories of a similar nature. Although we cannot ban overtaking as has been done in the States, we could require councils to put into the contract for the provision of school bus services that the buses should have appropriate designations at the back and elsewhere. We should certainly consider taking such action, which would fall within the powers of the Scottish Parliament.

In Aberdeenshire, there are already a number of yellow buses. The fact that they are distinctively different means that they contribute to improved safety, which I welcome. We are probably some way off being able to light every road along which kids walk. Aberdeenshire is the most rural council area in Scotland—57 per cent of its population live in the country, which is 2 per cent higher than is the case in Highland. Many of the roads in Aberdeenshire that kids use are single carriageway and there is no prospect of their being lit, so training and more buses to the door are essential.

Aberdeenshire Council gets only one quarter of the money that it has to spend on school transport. Glasgow City Council, by contrast, gets three times what it spends on school transport as part of its annual funding allocation. That issue should be part of a wider review of how we fund our councils—a process that leaves Aberdeenshire at the bottom of the per capita league.

I congratulate Alex Neil again on securing the debate and hope that the absent members on the coalition benches will read the debate and hang their heads in shame for their absence.

17:25

Stewart Stevenson
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