School administrators are inspecting hundreds of area buses after a spike in school bus crashes and injuries last year in the Mountain Empire. While we applaud the work that local counties do to maintain safety, more education and discussion are necessary to prevent future crashes.

Roughly 25 million children nationwide begin and end their day on a school bus, according to the National Safety Council. In Southwest Virginia, thousands of students equates to hundreds of buses. Washington County has a total of 135 buses, for example.

For all those numbers, though, remember this one: 11.

That’s the number of people injured in a total of seven school bus crashes in Southwest Virginia last year, according to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles.

Washington County has had 15 crashes and 18 injuries since 2016 — the most in the Mountain Empire. One of those crashes involved a bus driver following too closely behind a truck; another involved a truck driver who ran into a bus. Across the border in Bristol, Tennessee, buses were involved in four crashes last year, and Sullivan County responded to six crashes, according to information from school and sheriff’s offices.

With huge numbers of routes, stops, and buses, these crashes are actually a statistical rarity. In part, that’s because of the rigorous bus inspection system that exists in Virginia and Tennessee.

On either side of the border, buses are inspected regularly — even daily in some cases — according to Department of Education guidelines. That includes the current round of inspections, which involve a renewed Virginia State Inspection sticker and a modified commercial inspection in Virginia and Tennessee, respectively. In both states, drivers have to obtain a commercial driver’s license with an S endorsement.

We applaud the efforts of local leaders in both states; this is clearly a rigorous series of checks for everyone’s safety. In spite of all precautions, though, crashes have occurred — and the only acceptable number of crashes and injuries is zero.

Most of the checks in place for student bus safety are for mechanical issues. For example, Sgt. Nathan Hall, the Tennessee Highway Patrol public information officer, states that the biggest threat on school buses is stop-arm violations. When the lights activate, other drivers are required to slow down. In the wrong circumstance, it’s the leading cause of danger-zone fatalities. School officials inspect constantly for this issue.

However, the next two largest threats are student behavior and driver training. These issues align with the kind of crashes seen in the previous school year, and they’re the most difficult to counteract. Trooper Robert Wills with the THP leads an in-service training for bus drivers each year, and it’s this kind of preventative education, focusing on student management and safety after a crash, that will make the biggest difference for students outside of mechanical failure.

Beyond the school system, training and education for everyone involved in school transportation is essential moving forward — and make no mistake, everyone on the road is involved. After a long summer break, some on the road may forget how to operate around school buses. Be a part of the solution to student safety and educate yourself today.

School bus safety is ultimately up to all of us — bus drivers, students, parents, administrators and everyone sharing the road. We all have a part to play in keeping students safe this year. Let’s commit to a safer year.

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