“With any tragedy of this nature, our response is to step back and review,” Cowart said. “Any accident is unacceptable, but research says bus transportation is one of the safest ways to travel, based on the number of miles traveled.”
The driver trainee, Kenneth Herringdine, 59, of Roopville, has not driven a bus since the crash and will not drive again for the system until investigations by the Georgia State Patrol and school system are complete.
Over the summer, the system formed an accident review committee, which met three times. The committee has not met since the Oct. 4 crash, but Cowart said the group will review information pertaining to the crash, including police reports.
On Oct. 13, the system was dealt another blow after the driver of a pick-up truck struck the driver’s side of a school bus transporting 24 students to Jonesville Middle School and Bowdon High School. No students were injured in the crash, but bus driver Karmen Mitchem faces charges of failure to yield at a stop sign.
Cowart said the emergency response to that accident showed a knowledge in how to handle such crises, and the school system participated in a review of emergency response procedures last week.
The state requires bus drivers to have 12 hours of classroom training, 12 hours of supervised bus driving without any students aboard and six hours of supervised bus driving with students on the bus. Carroll County bus drivers, however, are required to take 20 hours of classroom training, six hours of driving without students and 12 hours of supervised driving with students.
About 172 Carroll County bus drivers are on the road each day transporting students, and each year, drivers log more than 1.2 million miles on regular bus routes. Some drivers also participate in additional driving for after-school events and field trips.
Most drivers take part in an annual refresher safety course, which lasts about three hours. If a driver does not participate in the course, they can be required to be completely recertified.
Cowart said additional training is always available for drivers. Each school cluster, determined by the high schools in the county, has a supervisor that drivers can call on for additional support.
“Our drivers are very under appreciated for what they do,” he said.
The county’s buses are inspected every 20 days, and more often if the driver has concerns about the vehicle. During the summer, all of the buses are thoroughly checked. About 35 buses are available if a bus breaks down.
Despite the system’s checks and balances and safety precautions, some county residents still have reservations about letting their children ride the bus. Brandy Carroll, a parent of a Carroll County student, said she no longer lets her son ride the bus after he was mistakenly dropped off at a neighbor’s house.
Her son Aiden, who wasn’t supposed to be on the bus at all, was put on the bus by a substitute teacher and dropped off at the neighbor’s house by a substitute driver. The driver did try to drop Aiden off at his residence, but no one was home. Instead, the driver reportedly dropped Aiden off at a neighbor’s house after seeing the neighbor outside.
“I know the neighbors; I trust them, but what if I didn’t? You don’t just drop a 6-year-old at someone’s house,” Carroll said. “My son would be gone and what would they say? ‘Sorry?’”
Cowart said people are concerned about bus safety, but large numbers of students have not been removed from buses.
“We understand any parent making the decisions they think are best for their child,” he said.
Carroll said she knows there are many good bus drivers that care about the students and know how to make sure they stay safe, but a few drivers are making all drivers look bad.
“Carroll County has a very good school system, and I don’t want [a few problems] to ruin it,” she said.