School Bus Safety Goes Beyond Inspections, Includes Technology

As the number of students increases and risk involving roads rises, a need to step up the safety of school buses is being met by installing more technology that provides safety measures to students and those in charge of monitoring driver violations.

With the high number of students travelling to school, the need to enhance bus safety is becoming a pressing issue, writes Olga Olga Hajishengallis of USA Today. According to Bob Riley, executive director for the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Service, there are 480,000 buses that carry 25 million students nationally from kindergarten to high school, and approximately 50% of school-age students ride a school bus to and from school.

In Putnam County, school bus inspection is underway with the Tennessee Highway Patrol helping to make sure children are safe while riding to school and back home again. Trooper Darryl Winningham, who is in charge of the annual state-required inspections in the 15-county district, said the main purpose of it all is safety.

“Safety is the main purpose of it all,” he said. “Just for the children’s safety.”

The inspection, which started recently and is typical of how authorities monitor transportation safety, involves inspecting all 60 of the county’s school buses from top to bottom: from wheel kingpins and bearings to the fire extinguisher and first aid kit. Terry Randolph, school transportation supervisor, described the process:

“They go through these buses one end to the other, top to bottom,” he said. “They check everything that’s related to the safety of the buses.”

“That’s primarily for the safety of our school kids,” he continued. “To make sure when driving on the road, to the best of our ability to make sure they’re safe and accident free.”

Any problem is fixed right away and Winningham echoed Randolph’s words.

“We don’t rush bus inspections,” he said. “We don’t have a set (we do each) day…We’re just going to fix them as we inspect them.”

The risk for children travelling in unroadworthy buses could be fatal. Riley said that there are 15-18 student fatalities annually that occur on the bus or outside it. A study published in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, it is estimated that in 2006, there were 17,000 bus-related injuries nationally each year.

Safety initiatives around the country include an alarm system in a Phoenix school’s buses that goes off when the bus is turned off by the driver. The driver has to walk to the back of the bus to turn it off, ensuring that he or she will see if any child has been left behind, said Eric Kissel, the district’s transportation director.

Some districts are going high-tech. In September, Boston Public Schools made the application “Where’s my School Bus” available to families. The free app allows families to track the location of their child’s bus on a real-time GPS-enabled map.