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Posted: January 26, 2013 9:36 p.m.

Are our buses safe?

The bus accident Tuesday that sent dozens of students to local hospitals is still being investigated. But concerns for the safety of students riding school buses are still fresh in the minds of many parents, as is what exactly happened to cause the accident.

Although the buses themselves look horrible, the injuries sustained were minor. Concerns regarding the brakes and general mechanics on both buses were ruled unfounded after the county, the Georgia State Patrol — which worked and is investigating the accident — and the Motor Carrier Compliance Division of the Georgia Department of Public Safety inspected the buses.

Questions have been raised by parents on The Covington News Facebook page about why there are not seat belts on school buses, and some also questioned why the driver, 55-year-old Gloria Inscore, was found at fault.

How safe are the buses?

"When it comes to the safety of a school bus, there is no safer way to transport a child than on a school bus," said Steve Monroe, Pupil Transportation Consultant with the Georgia Department of Education.

"American students are eight times safer in a school bus than their own parent’s car (according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration)."

Monroe said all school buses in the state are manufactured to meet both national and state school bus certifications, along with applicable Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.

As to the lack of seat belts on school buses, Monroe said buses are built to be safe and provide "passive protection to passengers through compartmentalization, like an egg in a carton. Today’s buses have high seat backs, high energy absorbing padded seats, closely spaced seating rows and smooth interiors with no protruding objects. Other safety features include a high floor line which causes most vehicles in a crash to impact beneath the bus. And buses are built like a tank to withstand impact and for the roof to withstand a rollover," he said.

"The Newton accident exemplifies how passengers were protected through the safety features and the safety design of a school bus. Georgia’s school buses move more than one million students each morning and again each afternoon as they travel the equivalent of more than 30 trips around the earth daily. To put that in perspective, Georgia’s school buses transport more than 4.5 times as many passengers each school day as Delta Airlines."

Monroe said that there has been only one fatal crash involving a Georgia school bus passenger — with the exception of a direct hit by a train — in the last 18 years.

What actually happened?

The GSP is still investigating the crash, according to spokesman Gordy Wright. In an email Friday, Wright said they would wait for the final report from the trooper who worked the accident to release the cause of the accident and the speed during the impact. Video has shown that neither driver was using their cell phones during the crash. It could take anywhere between five to 10 days to have the final report, which will show the crash dynamics.

What is known is that Inscore struck the bus in front of her while it was stopped dropping off a student.

According to Mike Barr, Director of Support Services with the Newton County School System, of the 55 students on the bus driven by Inscore, 17 were transported for injuries; and on the other bus that was hit, 23 of the 61 students were transported; both drivers also had to be transported.

A fellow bus driver called The News Friday to stick up for Inscore, saying she has been an exemplary driver for many years and that one mistake, admittedly a bad one, should not ruin a career. The driver, who wished to remain anonymous, said bus drivers are under intense conditions because of budget cuts and unruly children, who are harder to keep an eye on since the school system can’t afford bus monitors.

What’s the protocol?

Barr said that in a situation such as this, the primary objective is to ensure the parents of the injured students are notified and provided with accurate information.

"School and transportation department personnel are sent to hospitals receiving students to make certain parents of students injured have arrived at the hospital," Barr said. "The school system also works to notify the parents of students not injured and to provide a reunification site and process."

Director of Public Relations Sherri Davis-Viniard said that some parents did receive a phone call from school officials; there was also staff at Newton and Rockdale Medical centers, where the injured students were transported, identifying students and calling back to the school to get contact information in order to notify the parents of those students.

"Because of the extensive news media and social media coverage, the vast majority of parents showed up at the school or hospital before we could even notify them. As a result, there were some parents who did not receive a call. They basically arrived at the scene before we could notify them. As with any incident of this nature, we will evaluate how we responded, review what we did well and what we could improve on and use it as we prepare for future crises."

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