Thursday’s school bus accident in Pensacola – which injured 16 students and the bus driver -- is sparking renewed interest in school bus safety, from both inside and outside the vehicle.
According to the Florida Highway Patrol, a dump truck ran a red light at West Jordan Street and Pace Boulevard around 3:20 p.m., striking the bus on the rear left side and causing it to flip over and hit a utility pole.
Rob Doss, Transportation Director for the Escambia School District, says the accident report questions the state of the dump truck.
“The rear tires were bald, it was fully loaded with red clay,” said Doss. “The front tires were severely worn, the brakes on the truck are questionable.”
Of the 17 who were taken to local hospitals an Escambia County spokeswoman says two were severely injured; four moderately, and ten suffered minor injuries. Doss says it would have been “catastrophic,” had those students been in a private vehicle instead of a school bus.
“It is the safest vehicle on the road,” Doss said. “The state design specifications are extraordinary, with all the reflective tape requirements, rollover requirements, the caging over the top, reinforced rails and side structures. And even the seats are designed for maximum student safety.”
Of the more than 40,000 students in the Escambia School District, roughly 24,000 ride the District’s fleet of 330 school buses each day. The vehicles are on the road eight hours per day during the nine-month school year, which began last week. Doss urges motorists to use extreme caution around them, and when approaching a school bus, watch for its flashing lights. Yellow means caution and red lights mean stop – that’s the law.
“You’re required to stop in either direction, unless you’re divided by an established median four feet wide,” said Doss. “Other than that, you need to be stopped for as long as that arm and the stop sign and those flashing lights are illuminated. There’s a safety zone so you don’t get anywhere close to any student that may be getting on or off the school bus.”
Failure to stop for a school bus that’s loading or unloading, upon conviction, can mean a 100 dollar fine – a second offense within five years could lead to a 90-day driver’s license suspension. Failing to stop and passing on the side where kids are getting on and off the bus doubles those penalties.
The other thing to watch for, says Doss, is deployment of the six-foot arm on the front of the vehicle, aimed at making sure the driver can see all children leaving the bus.
Along with the school buses, drivers are also geared toward student safety. The 40-hour training course is said to be extensive.
“We hire fully qualified people,” said Doss. “Once they’ve met the state qualifications, we run them through our own background check. So if you’ve met all those prerequisites then we run you through our training course. We’ll observe you to make sure you’re a safe operator, and also you’re going to be good with students.”
Applicants making the grade are hired for an open-ended probationary period. Doss says when they’re satisfied that the meet the requirements, they’re hired permanently.
Meanwhile, the accident remains under investigation by FHP.