Flash idea that will help save lives

31st July 2009 at 01:00
In the same month, Robyn Oldham and Alexander Milne were killed while stepping off a school bus. To educate teachers and pupils on road safety, a pilot study is being trialled in three Scottish authorities - a first for the UK

A heartbroken mother has talked about losing her teenage daughter in a moving film being shown to schoolchildren across the north-east of Scotland.

Fifteen-year-old Turriff Academy pupil Robyn Oldham got off the school bus and was hit by a car in September last year. Her mum Carla has told her story as part of an ongoing campaign to encourage children to take care on the way to and from school.

"We had to sit for 10 hours and wait for her heart to stop. It's one of those things that changes your life for ever. Why my daughter?" asks Carla in the three-minute film.

In the same month, Alexander Milne, 12, from Fraserburgh Academy died in a similar accident getting off a school bus.

These tragedies prompted the Bus Stop! Campaign and the release of Carla's Story as part of a DVD and education pack with learning resources for teachers to promote pupils' safety. The campaign was launched by oil and gas company Talisman Energy with Aberdeenshire and Aberdeen City councils and is accessible to schools across Scotland online.

In a fresh initiative, a pilot study has been launched with the trial of innovative bus stop technology to increase children's safety while using school buses. The SeeMe system involves pupils carrying a small electronic device in their school bag, which activates flashing warning signs on school bus stops when children are in the vicinity.

The technology is used widely throughout Sweden and is designed to alert drivers to school bus stops and warn them when children are getting on or off buses and may be crossing the road. This is the first time the system has been tested in the UK, in trials by local authorities in Moray, Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire.

At Banchory Academy in Aberdeenshire, seven pupils who catch the bus on the busy A93 near Crathes and are carrying the transponders report encouraging results after just two weeks.

"The youngsters feel it's making a difference, and there are a number of members of staff who travel the road and feel it's effective in slowing the traffic," says the school's headteacher, Sheila Di Maio.

Meighan McMain, 13, says: "It's a really good idea and it has been working well. The cars have slowed down a great deal and it's been safer to cross the road."

Another pupil, James Ritchie, says: "It means when the buses are coming they can see us, because we don't have an official bus shelter, so this helps quite a bit."

The children's journey is along a stretch of the A93, a commuter route and popular tourist trail between Aberdeen through Royal Deeside to Balmoral. It has a 60mph limit, but pupils like Lucy Kemp, 12, worried about traffic speed. "It definitely helps a lot," she says, "because the cars are going a lot slower now. I haven't seen one going fast for a while.

"You feel safer when you are waiting for the bus. Sometimes there were cars going really, really fast. It is a very awkward place to cross."

More than 12,500 Aberdeenshire children travel to school by bus - some in remote rural communities, which have difficult winter conditions. The local authority has been investigating ways of improving children's safety and councillors decided all school buses in Aberdeenshire will have seat belts by 2010.

The SeeMe system is being tested at locations throughout the region with speed surveys undertaken to test its effectiveness. Aberdeenshire Council is also acting to ensure bus drivers display school bus signs and will review drop-off and pick-up points.

Meanwhile, the Scottish Government has launched a new Road Safety Framework to 2020, which aims to cut serious injuries on the country's roads by half and fatalities by 40 per cent.

An expert group helped devise new proposals, including action to target young drivers, a pilot of high-tech devices to restrict vehicle speed and moves to consider greater restrictions on newly-qualified drivers.

The framework also includes proposals to encourage local authorities to introduce 20mph zones in all residential areas and commitments to improve school bus safety.


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