Knox County (Tenn.) Schools Superintendent Dr. Jim McIntyre and law enforcement officers shared safety reminders and additional school bus safety measures with the public last week in time for the new school year.

The new safety enhancements are being applied following the December 2014 crash between two school buses that killed two students and a bus aide. As previously reported, one of the bus drivers, who made a sharp left turn, crossed over a concrete median and struck the other bus, was found to be sending and receiving text messages at the time of the crash.

“School buses travel almost 3 million miles each year — close to 17,000 miles each day — for the Knox County Schools,” said McIntyre. “About 350 buses carry hundreds of our 59,000 students to our 90 schools, so it’s vital that we all remember to drive slowly and responsibly, be patient in school zones and watch for children near bus stops and in neighborhoods. The safety and security of our students are the highest priority for the Knox County Schools. Please remember to be patient. Our children are worth the extra time.”

McIntyre also outlined recommendations for bus safety enhancements:

•    Mandatory additional hours of training annually for bus drivers to maintain their standing on the approved drivers’ roster, with a focus on distracted driving this year
•    “Safety check ride system,” which will periodically bring specially trained uniformed officers on board school buses to observe drivers, ensure adherence to safety protocols and conduct a brief visual inspection of the vehicle
•    Two-camera video systems installed on all buses to enhance the ability to investigate concerns expressed by bus drivers, students and parents
•    Organizational and operational review of the Knox County Schools’ transportation program conducted by an independent third-party expert

These enhancements, carried out in collaboration with the Knoxville Police Department and Knox County Sheriff’s Office, will be implemented this fall, district officials said.

The first day of school for grades 1-12 was Monday. Kindergartners begin on Tuesday.

Knox County bus contractors told Knoxville News Sentinel that they welcome the safety improvements and that many of the changes will protect drivers as well as students. Doug Davis, a spokesman for the Knox County Bus Contractors Association, told the newspaper he reiterated to his drivers they are not allowed to use their phones while they are transporting students.

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