Road traffic injuries are the commonest cause of death in Malaysian children aged 1-18 years. Deaths are not uncommon in school zones and we have had a number of disasters highlighted in the media.
The Clinical Research Centre Perak (CRC Perak) has conducted a comprehensive study to determine the safety of student drop-off and pick-up behaviours at our primary schools. Twenty government primary schools were randomly selected from 67 available schools in Ipoh city. All primary students wearing school uniforms, dropped-off and picked-up by motorised vehicles, were observed during the peak hours of drop-offs and pick-ups (12 noon to 1pm). Analysis of 2008 students showed that 32% were involved in dangerous drop-off or pick-up behaviours. Some children experienced more than one dangerous drop-off or pick-up behaviour. The commonest dangerous behaviours were students exiting or entering vehicles on the side of traffic flow (27%), dropped-off or picked-up at the opposite side of the road unaccompanied (25%), and double-parking (23%). Other hazardous behaviours included vehicles not following traffic rules (11%), waiting vehicles blocking the crossing path (8%), drop-off/pick-up in the middle of the road (4%), and vehicles blocking vision or distracted driving (2%). (See infographic)
As Malaysians we often seem to wait for a catastrophic event before acting. Here the evidence suggests that 1 in 3 of our primary school students are routinely involved in dangerous drop-off or pick-up behaviours. This is of serious concern and a potential for disaster to happen. Children going to school should not be exposed to such risks. There is good evidence from international research that these young children are not able to manage the traffic environment as well as adults; they can easily fail to adjust for car/motorbike speeds or make errors when crossing roads. Hence training these children is not the best solution. While we need to educate students on road safety, what is required is environmental change.
We hope the Ministry of Education and school authorities can work proactively with the Road Transport Department and parents to transform the safety profile and built-up environment of all schools. Every school should have the following:
A formal drop-off/pick-up area for children.
Bus loading and drop-off zones for children arriving by bus.
Adequate traffic calming measures around all schools (speed bumps, school speed limit sign, school crossing guard, etc.)
These are the minimum expected safety standards for any school and require both legislative support and enforcement. There should be stricter penalties for violating traffic rules within or near schools. In addition, it is important to consider the locating of schools away from major traffic and main roads. Unfortunately, some that were located in quiet areas had cities engulf them. We need to ensure that school zones remain underdeveloped with good green lungs.
As a society we also need to re-evaluate our behaviour of every parent sending their individual child to school in a private vehicle. The traffic volume this creates makes management of the school traffic environment extremely difficult. Investing in a better quality school bus system would make safety and traffic management much simpler.
We often speak of our children as the future of our nation. There will be no future if we do not look after the present.
Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS (Consultant Paediatrician)Dr Teoh Yen-Lin (Paediatrician)Dr Lim Voon-Lee (Paediatrician)Lim Wei-Yin (Research Pharmacist)Clinical Research Centre Perak