School bus safety requires cooperation from parents, drivers, students

Published 4:54 pm Wednesday, July 27, 2011

For many students, the school day begins not with a bell, or a teacher, or morning announcements. For them, the day begins with the arrival of the bright yellow school buses.

Chilton County Transportation Supervisor Joe Dennis is the man charged with transporting many local students to and from school.

“We have 88 route buses and approximately 110 total counting spares [in our fleet],” he said. “Our mechanics go over every bus from one end to another and change oil, look for things like cracks in mirrors, and anything seen is repaired.”

Many parents worry about their child’s safety once they set foot on the bus, but Dennis said the most dangerous place for a child is outside of it.

“More children are injured on the road outside of a bus than in it,” he said. “Once the doors are shut, that’s the safest form of transportation for children.”

Dennis said he thinks distracted drivers or simply careless ones put children in more danger than anything else, but steps are being implemented to keep kids safe.

“There’s so many distractions out there with phones and texting,” he said. “A lot of times when drivers run through the stops signs on a bus, they don’t even realize they’re doing it. We do have cameras outside these buses, and anyone caught not yielding to a bus stop sign will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

The Alabama Department of Transportation stresses keeping kids out of a “danger zone” of 10 feet around the bus in every direction.

While safety outside the bus is up to drivers on the road, safety inside the bus rests on the shoulders of students. Dennis stressed that students should have an understanding of what a bus driver’s job is and what they can do to make it easier.

“The most important thing they should know is to respect the bus drivers,” he said. “By being a distraction, a student is endangering others in the bus. Every second a driver is looking in a mirror at a student misbehaving, that’s a second their eyes are off the road.”

An issue that commonly comes up in dealing with school transportation is that of seat belts on buses. Dennis said belts would be ideal but don’t offer as much protection as one would think.

“It’s a very hotly debated subject,” he said. “Studies show that over a 10-year period, two or three lives would have been saved by them. The problem is a driver can’t make sure all seat belts are fastened, and that would bring about the need for an aide, which would be [cost inefficient]. New buses have the seats sitting higher, and made with more foam.”

The debate for seat belts will go on, but Dennis said one thing that is not debatable is the length to which Chilton County goes to make sure its bus riders are safe. That includes dealing with bullies on buses.

“Our No. 1 goal is safety,” he said. “If a child is bullied, they need to communicate with their parents or an adult that they’re comfortable with like a teacher or counselor. Then we’ll go about the necessary steps.”