Transportation director says school bus safest way to get to school

Transportation director says school bus safest way to get to school

LAMAR COUNTY, MS (WDAM) - A routine part of a child's day can also be the most dangerous time: getting on and off a school bus. It's a jarring thought when you also consider there are no seatbelts on that bus.

For years, parents and safety advocates have questioned why most school buses don't have a requirement for kids to buckle up, more specifically, where there are no seatbelts. It usually becomes a question when you see horrific school bus crashes in the headlines.

But Sumrall Middle School parent Sabrina McDonald said she doesn't worry. She trusts the school district's bus drivers.

"So, a lot of it is trusting the school district to make the best decisions for their students," McDonald said.

Pat Kribbs, transportation director of Lamar County Schools, agreed. He said that big yellow bus is the way to go.

"The best and safest way to get to school is on a school bus," Kribbs said.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, it's 70 times safer for a child to ride a bus than by car. On average, six student passengers die in school bus crashes each year, compared to 2,000 children killed in car crashes annually.

Kribbs said the very design of a bus is to protect kids, right down to the seats.

"High seats backs with lots of foam. It will take a pretty good hit and keep that child from getting severely injured," Kribbs said.

The rest of the bus is constructed like a cage. Kribbs said there are reinforced steel bands from the sides to the ceiling. Its dome shape serves a purpose, too.

"In the event that this bus rolled over it probably would not crush," Kribbs said.

Kribb said the length and height of the bus are supposed to absorb impact. Unfortunately, that was put to the test in an accident involving a car and a school bus in April in Lamar County.

"There wasn't any major injuries at all, course the children were taken to the hospital and checked out," Kribbs said.

Kribbs admitted if a more serious crash were to happen, seatbelts would make a difference.

"Well, certainly seatbeLts would enhance the safety of the bus," Kribbs said.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, eight states require seatbelts on large school buses. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says lap and/or lap/shoulder seatbelts are required for smaller buses.

But The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Kribbs agree on one thing. The greatest risk to a child is not riding a bus, it's getting on and off.  Last year, national reports documented, more than 100,000 school bus drivers witnessed more than 70,000 drivers illegally passing school buses in a single day.

That's where external cameras come in to play.  At least 15 states, including Mississippi, have cameras on the side of a school bus to catch and punish drivers passing stopped school buses. According to Kribbs, that's not the only external safety measure.

"The bus itself sets up pretty high," Kribbs said. "The crossing bar here [in front of the bus] will make a student walk in front of the bus so that the driver can see him. The amber lights initiate the process to either pick up a child or drop off a child."

Unfortunately, some drivers still aren't paying attention. Kribbs explained 16 drivers have been prosecuted for illegally passing the districts school buses in the last two years.

"Drivers have to stay alert whenever a school bus is dropping off and picking up," Kribbs warned.

McDonald said that 16 is too many.

"My whole heart is on that bus. Is there anything in the world so important that you would risk the life of my child or someone else?" McDonald said.

According to Lamar County Superintendent Tess Smith, those 16 prosecutions wouldn't have been possible without the district's $35,000 investment in cameras on the district's buses. For Kribbs, it's an investment that just adds to the overall safety of a school bus, even without seatbelts.

"Naturally, seatbelts can enhance that safety but I don't believe they are necessary, " Kribbs said.

In last year's Mississippi Legislative Session, House Bill 1322, which dealt with seatbelts for school buses, died in the house. According to State Representation Brad Touchstone, it was "double referred" to both House Education and House Appropriations.

He said it was never brought up for a vote in either committee so it died on deadline day. Touchstone said it would have had to pass out of both committees to ever make it to the house floor.

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