Third School Bus Accident Leads To Look At Safety

October 11, 2007 - Posted at 5:26 p.m. CDT

JONESBORO-Before even starting the engine, veteran bus driver, Pat James inspects his bus and gets ready for his route.

"My job description is to pick the kids up and get them to school safely, and pick them up and get them back home safely," said James.

For 21 years he's done just that, but with over 60 hours of safety training and hundreds of miles behind him, he knows there is always a chance of an accident.

"We are all human. There's always driver error at times, but the biggest problem I see is the other cars that won't stop when you've got your stop sign out and your red lights flashing," said James.

Therefore, he has his own ways of keeping kids safe.

"My kids know if I honk the horn, whatever direction they are going, whether from the house or the bus, they turn around and go back the opposite way," said James.

But what about safety once aboard a bus?

James says things like seating charts, and keeping the isle clear is important in the event of an accident.

"The main kids that get hurt are the ones who aren't sitting properly in their seat. They have their feet out in the isle, they are turned around backwards looking over the back of the seat," said James.

His words would hit all to close to home Thursday morning, when just after 7:00a.m. a fellow driver made this call for help.

"A car ran into the side of my bus as it was coming over the hill. I couldn't get out of the way," exclaimed the driver over the bus radio.

Luckily no ambulance was needed, but nearly 35 students were evacuated from the bus.

We're told the bus and the car simply didn't see each other due to a hill in the road.

Back on James' bus I ask him about the use of seat belts on buses.

He tells me with modern bus designs the seats are designed to fall forward in an accident which actually protects the kids from injuries, and says seat belts would make an evacuation harder.

"If we had a wreck, you have to go back and unbuckle everyone of those seat belts, especially for the little kids in particular," said James.

And while he hopes never to be in an accident of his own, James says he's always mindful of the possibility.

"There's never a day that goes by, that most of the bus drivers and myself included don't think about that," said James.

He told me today's bus drivers are more vigorously trained than ever before.

With more and more bus related accidents popping up, he says over the years safety has become the prime focus for drivers nationwide.

Today's accident marks the third school bus accident in just a week in Region 8 alone.

Statewide there were 175 school bus crashes in 2006 resulting in 71 students with injuries.

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