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How safe is your child's school bus?

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Image from crash test video provided by IMMI. Image from crash test video provided by IMMI.

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Scenes of school bus wrecks have become all too familiar in Kentuckiana newscasts recently. It would seem that the number of bus crashes have been on a constant rise the last few years. Through open records requests we found that there has been a slight increase in accidents in some districts but not all.

We sampled accident data from three school districts in the Louisville area. Jefferson County, Bullitt County and New Albany / Floyd County schools. We saw that there really hasn't been much of an increase, in fact, in Jefferson County bus accidents have actually been on the decline since the 2009 - 2010 school year. "Our recent trend data show accidents headed back down somewhat dramatically," says Michael Raisor, COO of the Jefferson County Public Schools.

Raisor also believes that the era of smart phones and texting and driving is a major factor, at least in some cases where drivers crash into school buses. So just how save are our children on their school bus? According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration they're much safer than traveling in a car. An average of 24 school age kids die on their way to school each year. Eleven of those are occupants of school vehicles and thirteen are pedestrians. The average for kids traveling in a car? The NHTSA says 58% are killed when a teen is behind the wheel, 23% with an adult driving and only 1% traveling by school bus. Why's that so? One reason is safer seats on the bus.

"The compartmentalization part of it," says Danny Libs, Transportation Director for the New Albany/Floyd County Schools, "they're real close, highly padded."

Libs also talked about seat belts on school buses or the lack thereof in Kentucky and Indiana. Only California and New York currently require all new school buses to be equipped with such safety equipment.

"If they'd be out of their seats during an accident or something for some reason, people can get hurt," said Libs.

In crash test video provided to us by IMMI, an industry leader in the design, testing and manufacturing of advanced safety systems out of Westfield, IN, we can see the effects of having seat belts compared to not having them. When used properly seat belts appear to keep the children in their seats, but when not used properly, or at all, the kids can fly all over the bus especially in a rollover accident.

Michael Raisor says the idea of having seat belts on buses has been a debate for quite some time.

"There's a lot of research on this and to be honest it goes both ways, but the research that I've seen that I believe is the more credible is the way that school buses are designed. School buses are obviously bigger than other vehicles on the road."

So what does that have to do with seat belts? Raisor explains.

"For example, similar to the accident we had in September with the bus going to Frost Middle School, when that bus flipped over, in that large vehicle, you would have had lots of students hanging from seat belts suspended above the air. Very different than what it would have been like in a car, SUV or something like that."

Then comes the question of drivers. What's done to make sure only the safest people are behind the wheel of your child's bus? They're put through hours of testing prior to being certified to drive a school bus. In Jefferson County, 80 hours of classroom time plus training with drivers. According to Raisor, that's almost four times as much as the state requires. Across the river in Floyd County, drivers undergo three days of classroom training followed by another 40 to 60 hours of training behind the wheel.

Libs says, "anything that we as transportation directors, and I think I'm speaking for all transportation directors, anything we can do to make the buses safer, we're for."

Unfortunately, with the number of buses on the road increasing year by year accidents are going to happen. With that being the case, efforts are continuously underway to make buses even safer than they are today, and we'll continue to follow that progress.

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