(FT. VALLEY, GA - WALB) As we prepare for the new school year, school bus safety will no doubt be on the minds of parents and school systems across Georgia and the rest of the nation.
Safety has always been and continues to be the top priority for Blue Bird Corporation of Fort Valley, GA., the top provider of school buses in the nation.
During the 2015-2016 school year, there were at least six school bus crashes in South Georgia, and more across the nation. One of the first questions asked after a crash is "Why don't school buses have seatbelts?"
Blue Bird actually offers buses with seatbelts. It's all at the discretion of the customer, and there are legitimate reasons as to why some school systems choose not to have them.
"They worry about rollover accidents or a fire on the school bus," said Phil Horlock, President & CEO of Blue Bird Corporation. "An older bus could catch fire in an accident and then you'll have little children panicking. Imagine 75 little children panicking and trying to get out of seat belts off. Bottom line, we offer seatbelts, they are available, and if a customer wants them, we will provide them."
The construction of a school bus is vital if children are involved in a crash. Blue Bird says their seats are "compartmentalized."
"What that means is that there are very high seat backs. Padded in the front and rear so in the event of an accident, a child just rolls into the seat in front," Horlock said.
Even the hood slope of the company's most popular bus the "Vision" plays a role in the bus' safety. "The most important thing for a driver driving a bus is for him to see the children around him," said Horlock. "So we drop the engine lower, we drop the radiator lower so that means that the driver in the cockpit can see a small child who is standing right by the bumper. "
Blue Bird's fuel tanks are placed between the chassis frame for safety and that means there's less chance of an explosion if another vehicle crashes into the bus.
There are three steps on school buses, compared to municipal buses. Having three steps lifts the children above "the crash zone." In the event of a crash, children are protected and the impact goes into the under body of the bus.
Rusty Mitchell, Director of Product Training said "So when the students unload from the bus, and they're doing a crossing, the student knows to get at least six feel away from the front of the bus, and this crossing arm is basically a good visual for the students to know how far to be away from the front. They're going to make eye contact with the driver so that the driver can give them the 'all clear' to cross the street."
Rena Hart, Sr. Manager of Environmental Health & Safety, says there's an emphasis on family translates to quality and safety. "We really focus on a family-life balance so that way, employees can focus on spending time with their families and still provide quality product for the communities. Safety is very important. It's Blue Bird's #1 priority."