Originally created 05/25/04

Toward safer buses

Isn't it odd that the state is really strict about requiring children to be properly buckled up in cars and trucks, but on school buses there's no mandate for safety restraints at all?

No seat belts; kids standing in the aisle; overcrowding; sometimes fights break out - just about anything goes, and that doesn't include the tired, overworked and underpaid bus drivers. If a driver has to slam on the brakes or the bus gets into an accident, the passengers would be banged around like marbles in a tin can.

The Richmond County School Board is facing up to the fact that overcrowding, low bus driver morale and a shortage of qualified drivers are creating dangerous conditions – not only an accident waiting to happen, but also an army of plaintiffs' lawyers prepared to file a multiplicity of lawsuits if it does.

Led by board member Johnny Hatney, who has seen some of the overcrowding himself, trustees are realizing that it might be less expensive, and dangerous, to deal with the problem now, before an accident does happen, instead of later.

School Superintendent Dr. Charles Larke, who's included money for new school buses in the upcoming budget, says a big part of the problem is finding qualified drivers to fill open slots.

The county's school bus drivers, however, have been unhappy with their working conditions for years. Perhaps that explains why there's a shortage of good drivers. The way to overcome a worker shortage is to increase wages and benefits and improve the hours. In short, treat them better and they will come.

In the meantime, as school board President Jeff Padgett points out, some of the bus drivers' stress could be relieved by reducing the number of activity and field trips, which have ballooned in recent years. Common sense suggests if the school system doesn't have enough drivers to safely handle the number of bus trips being scheduled, then the solution is to reduce the number of trips.

In any event, the school board is going to have to start paying more attention to its bus problems than it has in the past.


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