School bus safety

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Should seatbelts be required?

By Deborah Goodwin

The Selma Times-Journal

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Alabama law requires us to buckle up for safety.

The ad campaign “Click It or Ticket” probably runs through the average driver’s head before putting their vehicle in drive – especially if there is a policeman close by.

Following the tragic school bus accident in Huntsville on Nov. 20, many people have been questioning school bus safety and the use of seatbelts on buses – or lack thereof.

Four students were killed and a dozen students and the bus driver were injured when a car struck a school bus on the I-565 overpass, resulting in the bus going over a railing head first. Many argue that had the students been wearing seatbelts, lives may have been saved.

“We have state laws and federal laws regarding bus transportation and this is something that we don’t take very lightly,” said Dallas County School Transportation Supervisor of seven years, Lemuel Jones.

Jones, a former bus driver, said that the state does not mandate that school buses have seatbelts, mainly because buses are supposed to be one of the safest forms of transportation.

Jones pointed out that the ages of students range from five to 19.

“Whether or not the seatbelts would be sufficient, there would have to be more studies done because of the size, weight and height, because it’s not a one-size-fits-all when it comes to seat belts.”

According to Jones, Dallas County has 88 school buses, 79 of which are serviced each day. The buses seat 72 but carry an average of 56 passengers.

“We are below capacity and we are below state average of students transported on school buses.”

Jones said that in order to stay in compliance with state law, all school buses must be thoroughly inspected monthly, all drivers must do a pre-trip and post-trip inspection where they walk around the bus.

“If they see that anything is unsafe for the boys and girls of Dallas County Schools, they in turn will call our bus shop and our bus mechanic will come to that bus to make sure (it is safe),” Jones said. “Safety is of the utmost importance.”

According to Jones, the transportation department has five mechanics including the foreman.

“The superintendent emphasizes bus safety, the state director emphasizes bus safety,” Jones said.