Escambia County has never experienced the tragedy seen in Huntsville last November when four students were killed in a school bus accident.

Through the efforts of well-trained individuals, school officials hope the area never will.

It is a state law that every school bus driver wear, at all times, a seat belt, said Randall Little, assistant superintendent of education. Our bus drivers know that and abide by the law every day. If they are caught without their seat belts on, they lose their license and are dismissed from the job, period.

The driver of a school bus and a car involved in a deadly wreck on an interstate overpass in Huntsville have been named defendants in the first wrongful death lawsuit filed in the accident, which killed four teens.

The suit, filed Monday in Madison County Circuit Court on behalf of the father of one of the victims, contends in part that the bus driver wasn’t wearing his seat belt and failed to stay in his seat to control the steering wheel when the bus veered into a railing and plunged over it.

Jere Beasley is one lawyer who is representing the family of one of the victims in the case and stated the safety of children is the priority in the case.

The safety of children riding as passengers on school buses must be a top priority for those who are in charge of our schools and for those who own and operate school buses, Beasley said. This tragic incident resulted in the loss of innocent lives. Hopefully, the Alabama Legislature will take the necessary action to require all bus manufacturers to equip school buses with seat belts for passengers.

Little, who oversees transportation for the Escambia County school system, said the seat belt law has been in effect for many years.

School buses have come to us with factory installed driver seat belts since the 1972-74 period, Little said. School bus drivers have been required to wear seat belts for more years than has been required by private vehicle drivers.

Not only do bus drivers wear seat belts as a requirement, they undergo rigorous and continuous training to keep up-to-date on the latest safety procedures while on their job.

Each person licensed to drive a school bus has extensive training to undergo, Little said. A driver must study for and pass the State of Alabama Commercial Drivers License tests with a certification of passenger and school bus drivers. A four-day training period is then conducted by a certified trainer from the State Board of Education. At the end of the four-day period, each driver is required to prove their ability to safely operate a school bus.

Not only do bus drivers undergo rigorous training, a recertification process must be completed each year for the driver to retain their license to operate a school bus Little said.

In regard to specific safety features on school buses, contradicting evidence has been presented concerning seat belt use for students.

There have been arguments made for and against the use of seat belts for students on school buses, said Billy Hines, superintendent of education for Escambia County and former transportation supervisor. Florida did install seat belts for students, but found enough evidence against it to remove them from their buses.

Hines said, the reason Florida officials removed the student seat belts is because it was found to be a hazard and not very cost effective.

One argument against student seat belt use is that younger children may be unable to release the belt in the case of an emergency when evacuation from the bus would be necessary.

If a bus were involved in an accident that required evacuation by the students, younger ones like those in kindergarten or first grade, may not be able to get out of the seat belts on their own, Hines said. If you look on any of our buses once the students are on board, you’ll find that younger students are seated nearest the front of the bus with older children seated near the rear.

Hines said the seating arrangement on the bus is planned in such a manner as to allow the driver to assist the younger children as quickly as possible in the event of an accident.

Although the seat belt issue is one aspect of school bus safety, the chassis and seat construction serve as protective restraints on their own merits.

The seats on the all our buses have three to four inch foam padding on the front and back of the seats, said Bill West, W.S. Neal bus yard supervisor. That would be enough padding for protection in the event of an impact.

Although accidents do occur, school bus transportation is considered the safest way to get to and from schools.

All buses have to meet strict specifications for safety, Hines said. Getting to and from school by bus is the safest form of travel for any student.

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