How safe are your kids on school buses?

How safe are your kids on school buses?

LAUREL, MS (WDAM) - From the moment your child leaves the house and heads off to school, do you really know what dangers they face getting to and from school?

Dale Coleman is the director of School Safety for Forrest County Schools; he said the school bus ride is a dangerous situation.

"The most dangerous situation that we have in our school system is our school bus," Coleman said.

Coleman said the safety of the children lies greatly in the hands of the school bus driver.

"You're trying to protect as many as 60-65 children at one time, so safety of the whole group comes first," Coleman said.

When Coleman is not overseeing bus drivers, he is one himself, so he knows firsthand the amount a stress a school bus driver can endure.  He said bus drivers have strict criteria to meet before they get behind the wheel.

"There's a constant training process with our drivers to teach them things to look for," Coleman said.

There are many dangers that students face on a daily basis including, distracted bus drivers, children misbehaving, cars passing stopped school buses and making sure the school bus is in good working condition.

The first thing Coleman wants parents to know is they have zero tolerance for bus drivers that do not follow the rules, including using distractions such as cell phones.

"You cannot use cell phones while you're driving," Coleman said.

Keith Ridgeway is the transportation director for Laurel City Schools. He said another big issue on school buses is children misbehaving.

"All buses are equipped with video cameras if you look here and there, so a bus driver tires to identify that student before it gets out of hand," Ridgeway said. "The principal is given a bus referral and they take care of that student."

With the safety of students in mind comes a startling announcement from the National Highway Traffic safety Administration, which recommends that all children be strapped in seat belts on school buses. Most buses in the Pine Belt do not have seat belts.

Coleman and Ridgeway said there are pros and cons to having seat belts on school buses.

"The concern is that you have just one driver with maybe 60 children seat-belted in, the amount of time it would take to get those children out the seatbelt," Coleman said.

Ridgeway said mandating seat belts on buses may be challenging.

"We've got to look at the issues with that on a regular bus and there's going to be a cost associated with that, so we need to make sure that district is going to be able to fund that," Ridgeway said.

One of the greatest concerns with school bus safety is cars speeding pass stopped school buses.

"Last year, four times I had cars come by me while I'm trying to unload children," Coleman said.

This dangerous situation serves as a serious reminder of when Nathan Key of Jones County was hit and killed by an impatient driver who passed a stopped school bus. His death prompted a new law that prohibits violators called Nathan's Law.

"That's the biggest danger that we're facing nowadays is the oncoming of traffic and there's a Nathan's law that was put In place but people still will run that stop sign," Coleman said.

A hidden danger is the condition of the school bus itself.  Ridgeway said their buses are inspected routinely.

"The vehicle itself is a safety issue, we want to make sure that we have all kids on a good bus with good tires," Ridgeway said.

Seven on your side checked for good tires at the transportation centers in Laurel and Forrest County. We were specifically looking for the Department of Transportation number.

This a a four-digit number that shows the week and year that the tires were manufactured.

Mike Davis with University Tires in Hattiesburg said one's tires should not be more than seven years old.

However, at Forrest County we found a few tires that were more than seven years old.

Seven on your side asked Davis if that posed any dangers to students on the buses.

"If the tire was purchased two years after they were built, it's fine, so it just depends.  Just because you see that, that doesn't necessarily mean that the tire has been in service that long," Davis said.

With so many dangers present on school buses on daily basis, Coleman said the ultimate goal is protecting all children on board.