“What If?” — Safety program helps bus drivers prepare for the unthinkable

Published 9:37 am Friday, August 12, 2016

Star Photo/Abby Morris-Frye  On Wednesday, local school bus drivers got a look at their worst fears during safety training when they faced a simulated bus crash complete with children portraying injured students.

Star Photo/Abby Morris-Frye
On Wednesday, local school bus drivers got a look at their worst fears during safety training when they faced a simulated bus crash complete with children portraying injured students.

What if?
That is a question that Carter County School System Director of Transportation Wayne Sams posed to local school bus drivers during a special training session on Wednesday morning.
While no one, especially a school bus driver, wants to think of children getting hurt in a bus crash, Sams wants to make sure his drivers are prepared and know how to respond in the event the unthinkable happens.
Sams and his staff hosted the training session for not only bus drivers with the Carter County School System but also drivers with the Elizabethton City Schools and the Johnson County School System.
“We had between 85 and 90 drivers go through this training today from the three school systems,” Sams said.
In recent years there have been several incidents of students being injured in bus accidents —most notably in Washington County where 30 people were injured after a bus turned over, and in Knox County where two school buses collided, leaving three dead and dozens injured. Here in Carter County, in 2014 a young girl was struck by a bus as she approached the bus stop and in 2015 a school bus was struck by a car on Willow Springs Road.
Those incidents were the driving force behind developing a new part of the school system’s driver safety training. Sams said wanted to bring the idea of safety to life for the drivers, adding that from his own experience he knows seeing something can have more of an impact than simply hearing it.
“We didn’t want to overwhelm them, but just wanted to have them think about ‘what if,’” he said.
Sams and his staff decided to set up a simulated bus crash as part of the safety program. Bus garage staff took an old bus — one that was no longer in service and was being used for spare parts — and turned it on its side.
To bring the simulation even more to life, four local students — Bailey Andrews, Hazen Brumitt, Destini Milhorn and Andy Montgomery — agreed to help out and play the parts of injured students, complete with fake blood. Bus garage staff even set off smoke bombs in the bus to add to the realistic appearance of the simulated crash.
Once everything with the simulation was set, the drivers were brought around a line of buses that had previously blocked the “crash” from their view. After catching a glimpse of the crash scene, Sams had drivers maneuver through the bus and practice using the emergency exit.
Some of the drivers were visibly shaken after the experience and said it had really made them think about what they would do if something like that happened.
After speaking with some of the drivers after the simulation, Sams said he was considering the training a success. “I felt that if it helps even just one driver it was going to be a success,” Sams said.
Also as part of the training, Sams reviewed state laws regarding bus operation with the drivers, in particular a new law that took effect this year that severely stiffened the penalties school bus drivers face if they are caught using a cell phone behind the wheel.
The new law was spurred by the 2014 crash involving two school buses in Knox County in which two students and an aide died of their injuries. Investigators looking into the crash determined that one of the bus drivers had been sending and receiving text messages while driving the bus.
Now, bus drivers face very harsh penalties if they are caught using any portable electronic device other than the school system’s two-way radio communication system.
“It’s an automatic 30 days in jail, a $1,000 fine and a loss of your CDL for life to drive a school bus in the state of Tennessee,” Sams said of the new penalties.
Sams said he also refreshed drivers on the safety laws that vehicles must follow when they encounter a school bus that is loading or unloading children. He said he hopes the general public will also pay close attention to the laws now that students are returning to school.
Under state law, it is a crime to pass a stopped school bus that is loading or unloading students. State law provides that the driver of a vehicle that meets or approaches a bus that has stopped to pick up or drop off children must stop before reaching the bus and may not proceed until either the school bus resumes motion, the bus driver signals the stopped driver to proceed, or the bus lights and stop sign are no longer activated.
This law applies to not only regular roadways but also to highways that feature a continuous turn lane.
The only exception to the law is for those highways were the lanes are separated by a physical barrier such as a concrete divider or a grass median.
Sams said vehicles passing stopped school buses remains a problem in the county, particularly on Highway 91 in Stoney Creek. He feels the problem could be that people do not understand the law and believe that because the northbound and southbound lanes are divided by a turning lane they are not required to stop.
The Tennessee Highway Patrol has said it will be monitoring school zones and bus routes to watch for motorists who are not obeying the traffic laws regarding stopped school buses and school zone speed limits.
Under state law, it is a Class A misdemeanor to fail to stop for a school bus that is picking up or letting students off. It is punishable by a fine of not less than $250 and not more than $1,000.

NW0811 Bus Safety - GRAPHIC

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