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Safety stressed in bus training
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James Ford, school bus driver primary instructor, explains how the bus works from the inside to Ida Anderson. She will be required to name parts of the bus and its functions for certification. - photo by Alena Parker / Coastal Courier
Realizing they will become the sole operator of a five-ton school bus with dozens of children aboard, Thea Mumuni and Ida Anderson have committed to learning the workings of the vehicle, inside and out.
After a school bus accident near Canton Monday that injured a dozen students, there has been added attention to school public transportation and safety.  
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, school buses are approximately seven times safer than passenger vehicles and light trucks and an average of six children a year die from bus accidents.
Federal law does not require seatbelts on buses, but five states have enforced the mandatory use of safety restraints on them.
"I'm sure in due time the federal government will start mandating things like that (seatbelts)," Mickey Bayens, transportation director for Liberty County Schools, said.
Bayens said he makes sure drivers put the students' welfare before anything else.
"We always have an informational safety meeting once a month so everyone's on the same page with what's going on," he said. "Whatever we need to do to work together to make sure we get the job done."
After the at least 21-year-old applicants complete reference and criminal background checks, they can begin training.   
Bayens said driver training is "one of the best things that we can offer here...we train you right here on the spot."
Training takes three to four weeks at the transportation office on Airport Road where daily sessions run from 8:30 a.m. to noon.
James Ford and George King team up and combine their total nine years of experience to train drivers.
"(Trainees) must complete four written tests before we can even let them near the bus," Ford said.
He explained how the training prepares them for the driver's certification.
Bayens explained the transportation office is always looking to hire detailed-oriented drivers who are committed to safety.
"There's always a need for bus drivers," Bayens said. "We never have a surplus."
Disruptive behavior from students is the most controllable safety risk on school buses.
Drivers are instructed to "try to work with the student, just like in a classroom," Bayens said.
"That last result is using the power of the pen...and letting the school deal with the discipline and the school does a very good job," he said.
Parents are also encouraged to remind their students about conduct on the bus.
"Please do not distract the bus driver from maintaining safety by keeping their eyes on the road. That's the key," he said.
School transportation in Liberty County operates 120 regular routes and 20 special needs routes.
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