School Bus Drivers Carrying the Future

October 11, 2006 - Posted at 4:59 p.m. CDT

JONESBORO, AR -- With the flurry of bus accidents over the past week, it is easy to point the finger at bus drivers.  However, becoming a bus driver in Region 8 takes extensive training.

"To me those students are precious cargo and I want good drivers," said Wayne Barnes, Assistant Transportation Director at the Westside School District.

But just because you have a drivers license doesn't mean you have what it takes to drive a school bus.

"We have turned some away. They have to be able to deal with kids too," said Barnes.

Not just anyone can get behind the wheel a 13,000 lb. vehicles. Before you can even think about picking up kids, you must obtain your CDL license and at Westside you must go through hours of extensive training.

"It's a minimum of 24 hours training, including classroom, pre-trip, the walk around and driving skills test," said Barnes.

With the amount of contact drivers have with students, character is also considered.

"They do a finger print check and they are sent to the state police for a background check," said Barnes.

Once in the system, drivers are subject to drug and alcohol tests.

"We use the local med test they come out monthly. The names are fed into a computer and eight of them are tested every month," said Barnes.

Once you have a qualified driver, keeping them in the school system is equally as important. In the business world, skilled professionals are paid more and that is the same stance Westside has when it comes to their drivers.

"I don't know how the other schools pay, but I know that is a key out here because we have people that have stayed with us for 50 years," said Westside Transportation Director E.T. Daniels.

Daniels believes the school's bus program is successful because their drivers have 100% authority. One driver said she spoke with her students about Tuesday's accident in Lawrence County. The students were told that if they were any kind of distractions, they were guaranteed a trip to the principal's office.