By Sarah Plummer
National School Bus Safety Week is not just about catching traffic violators, said Raleigh County Director of Transportation Gary Daniel. It’s about getting the students, parents, community, bus drivers and all employees to work together to promote general safety, he said.
And that is one big task. With 9,000 kids riding the bus to and from school each day, Raleigh has the “fourth or fifth” largest transportation department in the state.
But from making sure students know the how to behave on the bus to doing monthly maintenance checks, there is an often overlooked workforce keeping students safe.
Daniel said the county has around nine full-time maintenance workers that perform nearly all repairs, with the exception of major body damage, on 125 buses.
Gary Watson, mechanics shop supervisor, said buses receive preventive maintenance every 26 days in addition to being inspected by the state twice a year and being inspected for a West Virginia state sticker yearly.
Daniel added that with an additional 5,000 mile maintenance check, buses are thoroughly inspected about 13 times each school year in addition to daily bus driver safety checks.
“We are very diligent about checking the buses top to bottom. No aspect is more important than another. We do our own tire and lube work and if there is ice or snow on the road, drivers have to put on their chains,” he said.
Watson also pointed out that radios in each bus allow drivers to be in constant contact with every other bus in the county and the county 911 center.
In addition, about 90 percent of the county’s buses are equipped with eight cameras and six microphones, which hold digital recording for up to two weeks and can be pulled for information regarding behavioral problems or drivers who have committed stop arm violations.
Daniel also noted each school bus has a GPS system and the department can track the location of each bus and identify each stop.
In addition, a great deal of planning goes into setting up bus stops.
“Before a bus stop is established, we inspect it and always try to plan a route so children don’t have to cross the road, but in a county this size, it is impossible to make that happen at every stop. We check possible stops to make sure oncoming traffic will be able to see the bus and have time to stop,” he said.
This week state, city and local law enforcement are stepping up patrols with the help of the Southern Regional Highway Safety Program, he said.
“They are really stepping up to spread awareness and keep an eye on our buses and students this week.”
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