Make every effort to prevent similar tragic deaths

Commuting on a school bus should be an enjoyable experience, and a tragedy in which a child loses their life while in one should never happen again.

The government has compiled a list of emergency measures in response to the death of a 3-year-old girl from heatstroke after she was left on a school bus at a nintei kodomoen, a certified childcare center that incorporates functions of both a nursery school and a kindergarten, in the city of Makinohara, Shizuoka Prefecture.

The emergency measures obligate nintei kodomoen as well as nursery schools and kindergartens to install their school buses — numbering about 40,000 across the nation — with safety devices to prevent children from being left behind. The devices will likely be designed to sound an alarm after the engine stops, and the driver or someone else will press a button at the back of the bus to stop the sound.

Such a device requires adults to walk back and forth inside the bus, so they will be able to find any children who are left behind. Even though this is with the help of devices, it is significant that thorough inspections will be conducted inside the buses.

Another type of safety device that uses sensors to detect children left on a bus and sound an alarm is also being considered. The cost of installation will be subsidized by the central and local governments, and preschools that violate the installation requirement will be subject to orders to suspend operations.

Another child also died after being left on a nursery school bus in Fukuoka Prefecture last year. At that time, the government issued a notice demanding thorough safety checks during commuting, but the lessons learned were not applied in the Makinohara case.

This time, the government has finally set forth concrete measures. Many incidents in which children were left on school buses have occurred throughout the country, including cases that did not result in death. It must be said that the government’s response came too late.

The installation of these devices is expected to proceed across the country, but it is dangerous to rely on devices for safety management.

The childcare center in Makinohara where the girl was left on a bus used a system to check children’s attendance on a tablet. However, due to the inappropriate use of the system, the center assumed the girl was absent without confirming with her parents the reason she was not there.

While making good use of devices, it is important to ultimately check with human eyes. It goes without saying that a thorough roll call must be conducted to make sure everyone gets off the bus.

It would also be effective to teach kindergartners how to sound the horn if they are left on a bus, and to remove decorations from the windows so that the inside of a bus can be seen from the outside. Each preschool should keep in mind the weight of the responsibility they bear for the lives of children and take all possible countermeasures.

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry has jurisdiction over kindergartens, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry handles nursery schools, and the Cabinet Office is responsible for certified childcare centers. Next year, a child and family agency will also be launched.

A situation must be avoided in which each ministry and agency deals with this issue separately and it is unclear where responsibility lies. It is important to make these efforts effective, through such means as periodic inspections of the progress being made with countermeasures, in cooperation with local governments.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 16, 2022)