DMV to coach bus drivers

Wake school officials hope to bring down the accident rate, which consists mostly of fender-benders.

Staff WriterMarch 24, 2011 

— The Wake County Schools system is seeking help from the state Division of Motor Vehicles to try to improve school bus safety and reduce the number of accidents.

Starting next month, DMV trainers will lead monthly classes for the county's school bus drivers, with an aim of sharpening driving skills during in-depth sessions tailored to school bus drivers.

The classes come even as county school officials say they are baffled by a spike in school bus accidents in the first 21/2 months of the year.

The school system averages about 12 school bus wrecks a month. But since Jan. 1, Wake school buses have been involved in 57 accidents, nearly double the usual rate, schools spokesman Greg Thomas said.

The accidents have injured 14 students and drivers, but none seriously.

Other than inclement weather in January and February, schools officials don't see a logical explanation.

"At this point there is nothing that points to anything unusual," Thomas said.

Bus drivers were found to be at fault in 32 of the accidents, while drivers of other vehicles were cited in the remaining 25.

A number of the accidents involved bus drivers backing into parked cars, other buses and other objects, such as poles.

"We are reminding our drivers to avoid backing up, if possible," Thomas said. "Although that's a little tricky in cul-de-sacs."

The overwhelming number of accidents are fender-benders, Thomas said.

Wake schools officials cite statistics from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration that indicate children are 61/2 times safer on a school bus than they are riding with their parents or peers.

The school system has at least 920 buses on the road each weekday, tallying 65,000 miles a day. The system has 92 substitute buses to help with ones that may be off the road because of inspections, accidents or breakdowns.

The training program

Thomas said the Wake school district has mandatory training for its bus drivers and offers summer refresher sessions. Each accident is reviewed by a transportation review board that may require a bus driver to take a defensive-driving class through DMV.

The new DMV training announced Wednesday will be two-hour sessions that will focus on defensive-driving techniques, post-accident analysis and improved driving methods.

"With 73,000 students riding our buses every day, we feel it's important to take every opportunity to improve safety and efficiency," Robert Snidemiller, the school systems senior director of transportation, said in a statement. "We feel these specialized training sessions will sharpen our focus."

thomasi.mcdonald@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4533

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