Safe Travel to School helps scholar drivers navigate COVID-19

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Safe Travel to School. (Image: Supplied)
Safe Travel to School. (Image: Supplied)

The Safe Travel to School project – an initiative Discovery and Childsafe launched in 2014 to create safer transport for children to travel to school – has been instrumental in reducing the number of child fatalities on the road. In 2020, the programme has 955 drivers transporting over 18 000 learners to and from school – with not a single recorded injury or death since it began.

But 2020 has also disrupted and posed new challenges for the scholar drivers taking part in the Safe Travel to School project.

COVID-19 left scholar drivers in a bind

On 5 March 2020, Minister of Health Dr Zweli Mkhize announced that COVID-19 had reached South Africa. “On that morning, the Safe Travel to School team was getting ready for the remaining motor vehicle tracking device installations sessions for the first quarter of 2020,” says Marcella Naidoo, Safe Travel to School project manager. “But by 14 March, it became evident that it would not be business as usual.”

Marcella was right. On 18 March, all Western Cape schools closed, which left about 3 200 scholar drivers without an income. “It was clear to us that this decision would impact heavily on the livelihoods of the 1 000 scholar drivers who participated in the programme over the past five years,” Marcella continues. “After the first month of lockdown, with schools closed and drivers not driving, they began to feel the financial stress of not receiving an income.”

Drivers were out of work from March to August. When schools did open again, the opening followed a staggered approach, which reduced the demand for scholar drivers. “Many drivers left the project to find other sources of income,” Marcella adds. A lower demand and lack of income meant that many drivers decided to sell their vehicles rather than risk not making the financing payments and then losing everything.

Childsafe

Safe Travel to School incentivises and rewards drivers’ behaviour

During regular school years, Safe Travel to School, which is based in the Western Cape, incentivises and rewards scholar drivers for improving their driving behaviour. The programme uses advanced driving technology and Vitality Drive’s behavioural change model to track and improve drivers’ performance in speeding, accelerating, braking, cornering and driving without using a cellphone.

Every Safe Travel to School driver gets a DQ-Track in their vehicle, which helps drivers to track and improve their driving and safety awareness. The drivers with the highest scores and who have met project requirements stand to earn substantial quarterly and yearly rewards, supported by the Discovery Fund. Drivers also receive additional support in the form of defensive-driving courses, an eye test, a basic health check and referral to local clinics, and first-aid training.

With road injuries remaining a major concern worldwide, the Safe Travel to School project aims to help achieve road safety. In February 2020, the World Health Organization reported that road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death for children and young adults age five to 29 years, with road traffic accidents claiming 1.35 million lives every year.

Supporting scholar drivers in the new normal

When schools opened again in June, scholar drivers had to sanitise their vehicles and comply with COVID-19 hygiene regulations – despite the fact that they had been out of work since March. Safe Travel to School stepped in to keep the participating drivers and learners safe from COVID-19.

“During July, we reallocated a part of our budget to give personal protective equipment packs to drivers,” Marcella explains. “We were careful to follow all COVID-19 regulations and distributed 521 packs, containing two reusable fabric face masks, hand sanitiser, disinfectant for the vehicle, a book to track the children, and information on how to deal with ill children.”

Safe Travel to School.

From mid-August 2020, the programme started installing DQ-Tracks in scholar drivers’ vehicles again, following COVID-19 regulations. “Childsafe reorganised how we do installations. Before the pandemic, 15 to 20 drivers would come for an installation at a time. Now, we follow a relay format, with five drivers every hour,” Marcella explains. During these installations, the South Africa Red Cross Society helps to sanitise the drivers’ vehicles.

It’s not business as usual yet, but at the beginning of October 2020, scholar drivers could start going for first-aid and defensive-driving training again. St John, a non-profit organisation in Cape Town, is the service provider doing eye tests for 565 scholar drivers on the programme.

Safe Travel to School invites all scholar drivers with a valid public driving permit and operating licence to join its network.

For more information or to apply to take part in the programme, visit the Childsafe.org.za, call 021 685 5208 or email info@childsafe.org.za.

Source list

“At Stockholm road safety summit, UN officials join global call to end ‘scourge’ of preventable deaths”. UN News. 19 February 2020. Link: https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/02/1057721 [Accessed 7 October 2020]

Global Plan for the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020. Link: https://www.who.int/roadsafety/decade_of_action/plan/en/ [Accessed 7 October 2020]

“Schoolbus driver performance can be improved with driver training, safety incentivisation, and vehicle roadworthy modifications”. South African Medical Journal. Vol 107, No 3 (2017). Link: http://www.samj.org.za/index.php/samj/article/view/11828/7987 [Accessed 7 October 2020]

“Vehicles transporting children to school will need to be kept infection free.” Weekend Argus. 30 May 2020. Link: https://www.iol.co.za/weekend-argus/news/vehicles-transporting-children-to-school-will-need-to-be-kept-infection-free-48710395 [Accessed 7 October 2020]

 This post and content is sponsored, written and provided by Discovery.

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