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After deadly crash, local schools highlight bus driver accountability
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After deadly crash, local schools highlight bus driver accountability

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After a school bus crash killed six students in Chattanooga, Tennessee, two weeks ago, Dan River Region schools said transportation safety systems both hold bus drivers accountable and protect the lives of students.

“ Safety of the students is the top priority,” said Pittsylvania County Schools Director of Transportation Kenyon Scott.

Local school officials say multiple systems let them know when students are misbehaving or drivers are breaking traffic laws, including camera systems, GPS and drug testing programs.

On Nov. 22, a Chattanooga school bus crashed when the driver lost control and struck both a telephone pole and a tree, crushing part of the bus and killing six students.

In the aftermath, records released by the school district contain two written complaints by students about bus driver Johnthony Walker’s reckless driving. Administrators also took issue with Walker’s driving prior to the crash.

Danville Public Schools Director of Safety and Security Dave Cochran said the school uses a live camera and GPS monitoring system during the day to track each of the 62 buses travelling Danville roads. At any time during or after buses run, Cochran can use his computer to check cameras, bus speed and location.

So, if a student or parent has questions or complaints, Cochran or Director of Transportation Michael Adkins can almost immediately see what actually happened.

“ There’s no fabricating it,” Cochran said. “It’s right there.”

Additionally, Cochran said drivers must obtain a commercial driver’s license, which includes physical exams. Drivers must also pass Virginia State Police and Child Protective Services background checks, participate in annual safe driving training and are subject to random drug tests and metal detector screenings.

In the county, Scott said all buses are equipped with front and back cameras and a select few of the newer models have GPS systems. Bus drivers also are systematically and randomly selected for drug and alcohol screenings.

Adkins said the cameras help when reviewing numerous complaints school officials receiving during the year.

“ The camera feed helps us a great deal,” Adkins said.

The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles has also deemed school buses safe without seat belts due the compartmentalization of the bus seats. Cochran described the seats as a kind of egg carton that protects students during collisions, as long as they remain seated.

“ Schools buses are one of the safest vehicles on Virginia roads,” Cochran said.

Students are six to eight times safer riding to school in a school bus than riding to school in their parents’ cars, according to a 2010 University of Alabama study. However, the study found seat belts would make those buses even safer, but decrease the number of bus seats available.

Metcalfe reports for the Danville Register & Bee.

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