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June 01, 2005  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

Bus crashes spur safety study

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — In the wake of three accidents that killed two motorists and injured dozens of students, Gov. Matt Blunt formed a panel to study school bus safety.

The Missouri School Bus Safety Task Force will examine issues such as seat belts on buses, inspection procedures and driver licensing.

“The events of last week are a tragic and unfortunate reminder that it is not enough to assume school buses are safe,” Blunt said. “It is not enough to hope that existing laws, regulations and inspection processes are sufficient.”

The task force will make initial recommendations to the governor before the start of the next school year. The nine panel members include officials from various school districts and safety organizations throughout the state.

In the most serious of the three school bus accidents in Missouri — all during the second week of May — a driver in Liberty reportedly lost control of her bus and hit two vehicles. The accident killed two motorists and injured at least 23 students.

Driver Irma Thomas, 45, told the Liberty Public School District superintendent that she could not stop the bus.

The National Transportation Safety Board launched an investigation of the accident. Chief Investigator Gary Van Etten said that it could take as long as 18 months to determine the cause of the crash.

Van Etten also said that a surveillance camera on the bus was not functioning. However, he said that information was available from a global positioning system on the vehicle.

In a news conference held 10 days after the crash, investigators said they had found no defects with the bus’ brake and electrical systems, though the study was ongoing.

According to the Kansas City Star, district officials said Thomas had raised concerns in March and April about a system that warns drivers when air pressure for the brakes is low.

Van Etten said that the school district’s maintenance records were exemplary and that staff members had immediately addressed each work order submitted by Thomas.

During the same week as the Liberty accident, a school bus was rear-ended by a tractor-trailer in St. Louis, causing minor injuries to about 20 students and the truck driver.

The following day, a school bus was struck by a slow-moving train in Hannibal, Mo. The bus had stopped short of clearing the tracks when its rear bumper was clipped by the train. Several students suffered non-life-threatening injuries.

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