When an Ackerman High School bus collided head on with a tractor-trailer on Feb. 8, three people were killed: bus driver Steven Moss, truck driver Gary Bailey and teacher Phyllis Graham, who sat directly behind Moss on the bus.
Thirteen students and one teacher were treated for injuries from the accident that occurred near the intersection of Highways 8 and 9, but none of those injuries were life-threatening.
In fact, Ralph Capps, transportation director for the Lee County School District, said that the accident actually proved how safe school buses can be.
"That bus took an extremely hard hit and none of the kids were hurt," Capps said.
"Your bus is still considered the safest vehicle on the road. The way it's reinforced with the floor, side walls and top, it can withstand impact."
There was more evidence of that on Thursday when a car rear-ended a stopped bus in Baldwyn, injuring the driver of the car but no one on the bus.
Leonard Swilley, transportation director for Mississippi Department of Education, said 450,000 Mississippi students ride school buses every day.
What makes them a safer form of travel, he said, is the amount of training that drivers are required to take and the way the vehicles are built.
All Mississippi bus drivers attend an eight-hour recertification course every other year and must take four hours of training every year. Individual districts also may add their own training requirements.
Meanwhile, school buses are built with several features designed to make them safer.
The high seats and narrow aisles are intended to keep riders in compartments.
In an accident, riders would most likely be thrown into the cushioned seat in front of them or onto the seat next to them. They are less likely to be thrown a great distance.
"The back of the seat is almost like an air bag," said Kenneth Roberts, director of transportation for the Tupelo Public School District. "It is as safe, to me, as an air bag."
The bus' curved roof is intended to force it to turn onto its side if it were to roll over. The vehicle's frame also is reinforced so it can better withstand a collision. It has emergency features, such as windows or roof vents that can be removed for an escape.
Although some people have advocated for seat belts on school buses, Roberts, Capps and Swilley do not believe seat belts would make them any safer. In fact, they argue, they could make it worse.
Some students might use them as a weapon in a fight. Also, in the event of an accident with young students, they might be trapped in their seat belts if the driver is unable to release them.
Instead, the three men worry more about what could happen to students before or after they ride a bus.
The greatest danger, they say, is that a passing motorist would ignore a stopped bus and hit a student who is boarding or unloading from the bus.
All three urge drivers to be careful around school buses.
The Mississippi legislature is currently considering a law that would increase the punishment for injuring a child while passing a school bus. The Senate passed a version of the bill on Friday. It is still pending in the House.
"Outside the bus is where the most concern is," Capps said.
Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or email@example.com.