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Monday, 22 November 1993
Page: 3315

Senator COLSTON —My question to the Minister for Transport and Communications relates to recent tragic accidents involving children alighting from and boarding school buses. Can the minister advise whether action is being taken to improve safety in the use of school buses and, if so, what measures are being implemented?

Senator COLLINS —The federal government is very conscious of the particular dangers that are being faced by Australian school children in their daily task of getting to and from school. I think all honourable senators would agree that it is particularly tragic that families should suffer the loss of young children travelling to and from school. This is an exercise which should be safe. The real tragedy is that most of the deaths—and there are a significant number of them; I think honourable senators may be surprised to know just how many—are completely avoidable.

  Unfortunately, a common thread runs through these accidents and this indicates how completely avoidable they are. While there has been, I think rightly, a focus recently on the safety of school children while in a bus—that is, we are focusing on, for example, fitting seat belts to buses—the statistics show that without question the greatest dangers faced by school children are not when they are in the bus but when they are approaching or leaving it.

  A report that has just been released by the Queensland parliament's travelsafe committee indicates how appallingly high the tragic loss of young life is when children are travelling to and from school. This report reveals that in the state of Queensland alone between 1986 and 1991 there were 54 fatalities involving school age children travelling to and from school—54 deaths of school kids in five years. A school bus was involved in 10 of those cases in which a child was killed, but only one of the fatally injured children was actually an occupant of a bus at the time of the accident.

  Two recent fatal accidents—one in Sydney, where two children were hit, and, unfortunately, one only a week or so ago in my home town of Darwin—had the common thread of children running around the front of the bus before the bus had left the bus stop. Such children cannot be seen by traffic that is coming from behind. From personal observation, I can attest to the fact that both children and drivers seem to have a total disregard for the safety problems that occur at congested times of the day when children are arriving at school in the morning and leaving in the afternoon.

  I have recently written to all state and territory transport ministers seeking their agreement to a joint national review of the dangers for school children in getting on and off school buses. The review will identify the existing measures that are being taken by the states and develop a national program building on those initiatives.

  There are two common factors that contribute to this unnecessarily high number of kids being killed. The first is that children run in front of the bus after they get off. The second, often related to the first, is that the parents or the carers of these children wait on the side of road opposite the bus for the children to get off. There is often a combination of the kid running in front of the bus to the adult who is waiting on the opposite side of the road.

  Tragically, a lot of these deaths could be avoided if parents would simply wait on the same side of the road as the bus for their kids to get off. This would avoid the problem of the child running in front of the bus in the first place and running to the parent. That child has eyes only for that parent and is completely ignorant of the traffic coming the other way. I hope this review will be completed in time to allow it to be considered by the transport ministers conference that will be convened early in the new year.

Senator Gareth Evans —Mr President, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.