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East Texas school districts put emphasis on bus safety

By Richard Yeakley
Aug. 29, 2012 at 11 p.m.


A school bus crash Wednesday morning in Mount Pleasant that sent about 30 students and a bus driver to the hospital happened despite annual inspections and a "veteran" driver with no history of wrecks.

Although traffic fatalities data from 2000-09 released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows less than a half-percent of traffic fatalities were classified as school transportation-related, Wednesday's crash was a reminder how fast a bus wreck can occur.

East Texas school districts report they have reasonably high hiring standards for their bus drivers and are responsible for maintaining annual state level inspections of their vehicles.

What's more, many Gregg County schools report monthly, weekly and even daily inspections of their vehicles beyond the state regulated inspections.

Texas transportation law requires commercial vehicles to be inspected every year, similar to private vehicles.

Ray Miller, director of operations for Longview ISD, said the school district's fleet of 73 buses undergoes the mandatory annual state inspection along with in-house safety inspections every 2,000 miles.

Jody Sanders, transportation director at Kilgore ISD, said his school district's fleet of 37 buses undergoes a pre-trip inspection before each route, routine inspection monthly and the mandated annual state inspections.

Eric Connor, the transportation director of Spring Hill ISD, said his district's fleet of 22 buses receives daily inspections by drivers, weekly inspections by maintenance personnel and yearly inspections.

Spring Hill is the only fleet that reports it has buses in its fleet that had not passed inspection by the state; however, the school district is not using those buses, Connor said.

"No bus in which the state inspection is expired or has been rejected is or will be operated until the issue is resolved, Connor said.

There is no state agency that districts report the status of their bus fleet to, according to Texas Department of Public Safety officer Jean Dark.

Instead, Dark said the Department of Public Safety has employees who audit and inspect the inspectors used by school districts.Many schools maintenance crews are trained to serve as the annual inspectors.

<strong>Drivers</strong>

Each district provides specific standards for bus drivers.

Although requirements vary among districts, there are several state-wide requirements that every driver must meet.

First, in order to drive a school bus, a person must obtain a Class-B commercial driving license. The license is obtained in a similar way to obtaining a standard license with a knowledge test and road test.

Every driver must also complete school bus driver safety certification training, a 20-hour training session that teaches drivers about their vehicles, running a bus and dealing with students, said Katie Chenoweth, assistant director of school operations for Texas' Region 7 Education Service Center.

Region 7 works with the Texas Department of Public to help implement the training required by the state, Chenoweth said.

"The school bus driver safety certification training includes knowing the ins and outs of the bus, knowing the equipment, knowing the maintenance, how to perform bus inspections, the proper steps to loading and unloading a school bus," Chenoweth said.

Chenoweth said this training is valuable because a person who has driven a tractor-trailer has the licensing required to drive a school bus, but many of the nuances of the school bus require extra attention.

Drivers also must take an eight-hour refresher course every three years, Chenoweth said.

No East Texas school district allows its drivers, who begin at about $13 an hour, to use cell phones or use profanity behind the wheel.

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