Three times is not always a charm but, rather, an alarm. This week saw a third case in Upstate New York of a student being dragged by a school bus for some distance before the driver noticed, all because the child’s backpack got caught in the doors. Although no one was seriously injured, the New York Association for Pupil Transportation issued a call to its members to step up driver training.
The fact there have been three dragging incidents within one month should be cause for serious concern in the entire industry, stated NYAPT Executive Director Peter Mannella and President David Adam in their letter.
“While any one of us could envision how such things might happen, we also know that there is no room for such errors and that our training should be ensuring against them happening,” they stated. “As a professional association dedicated to school bus safety, we are calling on all school bus operators to spend extra time with their school bus drivers to underscore the basic tenets of loading and unloading students safely.”
This includes educating bus drivers on checking their mirrors to see whether anyone is caught in their doors and reinforcing the practice of waiting until the children are at least 15 feet away from the school bus before closing the bus doors and pulling into traffic.
“We are recommending that such a ‘refresher’ on this topic be done as soon as possible — as soon as tomorrow morning,” they said Wednesday.
On Tuesday a Fremont girl was dragged by her school bus for about a half-mile before the school bus driver even noticed. Last month two boys in neighboring towns were similarly trapped and dragged just one day apart. On Dec. 18 a Stockbridge Valley bus driver accidentally trapped a 5-year-old’s backpack in the bus door and drove nearly a mile before noticing the child hanging outside the door. Though no charges were filed, the bus driver immediately resigned. On Dec. 19 a 6-year-old Morrisville student was similarly trapped and dragged by his school bus, albeit only for 100 feet. Once again, no charges were filed because police found the driver had not been criminally reckless.
“We are very thankful that neither child sustained any serious injuries but are certain that they were frightened by their experience,” the letter stated.
The association leaders also said they would cover this issue as part of NYAPT’s “In the Drivers Seat” training series and specifically address it with transportation supervisors during their Winter Workshop in February. Additionally, they noted they have contacted the State Education Department to express their concern about the lack of a state director of pupil transportation, which they said can lead to “problems and gaps” in the student transportation system.
Last, they urged local school districts to invest in extensive training for all school bus drivers and school bus attendants: “Short-cuts and reductions in transportation staff also leads to less leadership and direction at the local level and we cannot afford such reductions for safety’s sake.”