DOBSON — Surry County Schools is taking part in a new test in the hopes of keeping students safer.
Eight county school buses are now equipped with seat belts: a three-point harness that covers the lap and one shoulder like passenger vehicles have.
Over the past decade, more and more school districts across the country have gone to using these seat belts, and the state of California requires them, according to the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.
North Carolina has tried some pilot programs and is expanding the test area to include this small sample size here.
“Our top priority in school bus transportation is to get students to school and home safely,” said Dr. Travis Reeves, Surry County Schools superintendent. “Students know they are safer wearing a seat belt in a car, so it makes sense they should have that opportunity in a school bus.”
The school district is requiring students on these eight buses to use the harness.
In the past year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has conducted hearings on seat belt studies.
“Every child on every school bus should have a three-point seat belt,” concluded Dr. Mark Rosekind, administrator with the group.
Not only can the restraints help keep children safe from traffic accidents, there are other benefits, according to Derek Graham, transportation section chief for the state department of instruction.
“We are hearing about a shortage of school bus drivers across the state, compounded in part by drivers leaving the profession due to discipline issues on the bus,” said Graham. “We believe this technology can improve student behavior on the bus, let the driver focus on driving, and at the same time, provide enhanced safety for student passengers.
“It’s a win-win-win, and Surry County Schools is to be commended for taking this initiative.”
This new study comes on the heels of changes made to bus-safety policies across the state at the start of the year.
Each year, the Department of Public Instruction requests that school bus drivers take a single-day count of how many times a vehicle passes their school bus while it is stopped to load or unload children.
For the past several years that number has remained fairly consistent with more than 3,100 vehicles illegally passing a stopped school bus, according to the department.
Motorists fail to stop when coming from behind, from ahead and even on the right side of the bus.
Multiply this single-day’s count by 180 days of school, and the number of violations tops half a million.
Since 1998, 13 students have died from injuries sustained because a motorist illegally passed a stopped school bus. Violations continue despite ongoing public awareness and enforcement efforts.
Hoping to increase safety, the State Board of Education revised its bus-safety policy a year ago, with the new rules going into place in January.
The revised policy requires bus drivers to use a hand signal to let students know the roadway is safe to cross. The hand signal empowers the driver — the only school system employee on the scene — and guides students to consciously assess the roadway by looking at their bus driver before stepping into an active road.
“Students must play a bigger role in their personal safety,” said State Superintendent June Atkinson. “They can’t take for granted vehicles will stop just because the bus lights are flashing and the stop arm is out.” She said she also appreciated the support of school principals as they work to make sure that the message of school bus safety reaches all students.
Reach Jeff at 415-4692.