Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Sloping shoulders

The school bus service around here has been the source of much anxiety since we got here, and some of my early posts explain why. The most recent moments of complete incomprehension are not surprisingly related to the weather. But the reason they cause anxiety is because of the ubiquitous and very impressive ability of French public services to devise ways of avoiding any responsibility should something go wrong.

A number of people have needed assistance to get their vehicles out of ditches over the past couple of weeks. This led one motivated parent to enquire of the driver of his son's school bus whether his minibus was equipped at least with snow tyres, if not chains. The answer was an amazing no. So Mr motivated French dad contacted the owner of the minibus. He was told that the drivers were all issued with snow tryes for their vehicles, but that it was up to them whether they fitted them or not. Which neatly leaves the owner out of the picture in the event of an accident.

He can join the serried ranks of public servants who would legally avoid any responsibility in the event of the death or injury of a child on the school bus.

The Council of the 'Departement' has a contract with the owner of the minibus. The law allows children to be counted as half people when assessing the capcity of these vehicles. This means that they can carry two children for each seat. So at least half, and often more than half, of the children, some as young as 3, are unable to wear seatbelts. We already know what the now EC transport commissioner Jaques Barrot thinks of that. The law absolves them of any responsibility under these absurd circumstances.

The allocation of routes and vehicles is organised by the 'Community of Communes', but these organisations do not appear to have any contractual relationships in this respect, and therefore any legal responsibility for the service. And even if they did, the law also absolves them.

So, a school bus, heaven forbid, goes off the road and an unattached child is injured. Who is responsible? You can bet your bottom centime d'euro that no-one mentioned above, individual, post or organisation would be. And this absurd law is behind it all. Seat belts are increasingly mandatory, even in France. But this is an exception to public/school transport law purely designed to save money.

If any of them even thought about passing to pay their respects or make an apology, I wouldn't give much for their chances of getting away unscathed.

But believe me there's more...

The school bus drivers mostly arrive at school early. That is beacuse they deliver to two schools by 9:00; the primary and then the nursery. The teachers arrive outside the school to take responsibility for the children at 8:50, whether the bus arrives at 8:40 or not. If something happens to a child between 8:40 and 8:50, who do you suppose is responsible?

Right again, no-one...

Only in France?

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