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Making child safety a priority

May 17,2017
Since I am posted as a New York correspondent, I commute on State Route 9A along the Hudson River. It is an eight-lane highway equivalent to the Riverside Highway in Seoul. On this road, I spotted an interesting sight. When yellow school buses stopped near the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, a military history museum established on a retired aircraft carrier, vehicles in all eight lanes stopped. A stop sign flipped out on the school bus. The heavy fine from passing a school bus stop sign results is one of the reasons all drivers stop. American society puts a priority on children’s safety.

On May 9, a school bus transporting Korean kindergartners crashed and burst into flames in Weihei, Shantung, and the tragic accident made me think about society’s safety awareness. The lack of safety awareness already warned of the catastrophe. Koreans are just as insensitive, mending the barn after the horse is stolen as we’ve witnessed in the aftermath of the Sewol ferry tragedy.

I looked up the regulations related to school buses in the United States. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)’s school bus guideline begins with the following: “The school bus is the safest vehicle on the road.” I want to discuss a few points that can make traveling on a school bus safer.

First, the design for school buses is conspicuous. They are painted yellow and have red lights on the front and back. And there must be a bold sign stating that it is a school bus. The stop signs on both sides of the vehicle are also required.

Safety features are installed inside as well. The emergency doors are located on both sides and in the back. Also, there is an emergency escape hatch on the ceiling that children can use if the bus is tipped to the side. Even if there was a fire in the front, as in the bus accident in Shantung, children could leave the bus immediately.

If the vehicle were turned upside down, the enhanced steel frame protects the children. Plates are added on the sides for enhanced safety at collision, and a fuel tank is installed in a cage to reduce the possibility of fire in an accident.

Despite the excessively tight safety regulations, four to six students using school buses die every year in the United States. It is less than 1 percent of total deaths in traffic accidents, but the NHTSA is accumulating data to strengthen safety for children.

While stuck in traffic due to the school bus, I asked my taxi driver when Children’s Day is in America. He responded, “Every day.” I propose abolishing Children’s Day starting next year, as did Bang Jeong-hwan, who came up with the idea. Grownups are too ambitious to hope that children will grow up to become the pillars of the nation by celebrating them only one day a year.

JoongAng Ilbo, , May 16, Page 34

*The author is the New York correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

SHIM JAE-WOO