Officials ask for school bus safety awareness

By Greg Gelpi

Cars slamming into the back of buses at railroad crossings.

That's the most dangerous thing, said Sandy Eberlein, a dispatcher for the Clayton County school system.

"One bus is going to be disabled sitting on a railroad track and that is so deadly," Eberlein said. "I cringe when I think about that."

Of the 51 accidents this year, five have been buses rear-ended at railroad crossings, she said. Buses are required to stop at all railroad crossings, and large stickers on the back of school buses remind other motorists of this. Still, accidents persist, and the transportation department continues to minimize accidents.

School buses undergo monthly inspections, mechanic Richard Bull said. The regular inspections include "just about everything that has to do with a bus."

Brakes, lights and steering are among just a few of the areas inspected, Bull said. It's all important.

The most important thing to keep in mind during this National School Bus Safety Week is that school buses are out there and the community should be aware that buses are out there, said Michael Jennings, the school system's transportation director.

"I can't tell you how many people run into us and say they never saw us," Jennings said.

The school system reported 158 accidents, including incidents such as bumping into poles and school awnings, last year, he said, adding that surprisingly it's not higher.

"Things happen so quickly, especially with so many people in the county all trying to get to where they're going to quickly," Jennings said. "We stress to the parents and the community that safety is our first priority."

As of last year, the school system transported 32,132 students, traveling 20,491 miles daily, he said.

To increase bus safety, the transportation department employs technology, Jennings said. Among the technology used, all of the school system's buses have new adjustable side mirrors, surveillance cameras and child reminder systems to prevent children from being left on buses.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Administration, there have been 406,000 fatal traffic accidents since 1991. Of those, 1,337 have involved school transportation, resulting in 1,479 deaths.