CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - School Bus drivers in South Carolina covered 82.2 million miles of routes last year, all while carrying precious cargo: children going back and forth to school.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says buses are the safest form of transportation for children getting to school. The NHTSA reports kids are seventy times more likely to get to school safely on a bus instead of in a car.
But a Chattanooga, Tennessee accident last year is making Lowcountry school officials pause and think about whether they're doing everything they can to get kids to school safely every day.
"Fortunately, hasn't happened here, and I hope it doesn't. We do a good job of briefing our drivers and making them aware of what they should do and how to do it in a safe manner," said Paul Cobbs, Director of Transportation for Dorchester District 4. "After the accident, we had in-service meetings and reiterated safety with drivers."
As part of a three-part bus safety series, we took a closer look at how districts monitor school bus speeds and locations.
Our first story highlighted more than 400 school bus crash reports and analyzed who was causing the wrecks.
With a statewide shortage of school bus drivers, some districts are having to double up routes and shift around drivers.
Colleton County Schools Interim Director of Transportation Terry Dingle's philosophy is that kids can't learn if they can't get to school. But, he says, you can't put too much pressure on drivers.
"I want to ensure all drivers understand, yes, we want to get the kids there in a timely manner. But we want them there safely. So speeding is not acceptable. Taking shortcuts is not acceptable. They have routes assigned to them, and they are to follow those routes to a tee," Dingle said.
Many districts use cameras and tracking technology on buses. Dingle showed us Colleton's system and how easy it is to pull up a bus's cameras to review. They use it to investigate complaints and do spot checks to make sure drivers are doing proper safety pre-checks, taking assigned routes and obeying speed limits. The system has a GPS map overlay to review speed and location of a bus at any given time.
"Later on when I investigate it, I get statements. But boy, when I'm able to pull this up and see the actual footage? It fills in the gaps," Dingle said.
Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester Districts 2 and 4 all have similar video systems where they can go back to check speeding and location of a school bus. Georgetown and Williamsburg School districts haven't yet told us how they monitor speeding.
Dingle says his team also does speed checks in the field.
"We randomly pick buses and go out in our car and check them out," he said.
Spot checks with a radar gun on about two dozen school buses in multiple counties in the Lowcountry showed all were moving at or below the speed limit.
Cobbs said in his experience, a bus can seem like it's going a lot faster than it really is.
"A bus is not geared up like a normal car. The RPM's are higher than regular cars, and it makes that engine sound like it's running out of the world! But really it needs all that to pull all that weight it has." Plus, he said, buses are big and yellow and catch your eye at any speed.
We checked with all of our local sheriff's offices and police departments, asking if they've given any speeding tickets to drivers of school buses in the last three years. Most said they weren't able to specifically search for bus driver tickets. Charleston Police can, and they have not issued any speeding tickets to school buses in three years.
DD4 bus driver Jaqueline Sanders says safety is a priority on her bus.
"That's big responsibility, being a bus driver. You have so many kids' lives in your hand," Sanders said. "I feel like if there are any drivers out there who don't love their jobs, they shouldn't do it. These are kids. You've got to love them and give it your all, your best, make sure they're safe."
Tune in Tuesday for the next story in our school bus safety series. It explores why seat belts are not on South Carolina school buses and whether they are necessary.
If you have a complaint about a school bus you worry is speeding, please contact CCoyle@live5news.com.