By BETTY L. MARTIN
HOUSTON, Oct. 24 (Xinhua) -- Relentless training for bus drivers and students alike in Houston is the major reason why school bus accidents decreased by 5 percent over the past five years, school officials said Thursday.
Before students began their school year in September, drivers of the big yellow school buses attended classes for days to brush up on their driving skills and safety knowledge.
Meanwhile, students in the Houston Independent School District (HISD) are participating in National School Bus Safety Week on Oct. 21-25, an annual event to stress the importance of safety in boarding school buses running between school and home.
"This year, one of our drivers created a music and dance video that highlights the importance of safety -- staying seated while the bus is in motion, holding on to hand rails, no pushing or shoving -- on the school bus," said Chester Glaude, senior manager for transportation operations at HISD.
The video features elementary and high school students aboard buses doing the "School Bus Shuffle" to get other students' attention while the lyrics teach important lessons about bus safety. Also this year, state troopers are riding behind school buses to make sure drivers know to stop if they see a bus' red stop lights on.
Last year, national safety week was honored by Houston's City Hall, which donned yellow lights to pay tribute to the HISD school bus system and its exemplary record, Glaude said.
Houston takes bus safety very seriously, as HISD operates a total of 1,020 buses a day, with a total travel record of over 1 million miles per year.
"An average bus travels 75 to 100 miles per day," Glaude said. "The oldest bus is about seven years old and the newest bus is only a few weeks old right now."
"What we've done in recent years is to equip all buses with what we've done equipped with GPS (global positioning systems) to track it at any given time. All of our buses have cameras inside them so the driver arriving at a bus stop can see what's going on all around the bus stop," he said.
All buses also have buzzers that sound when the last child has exited the bus so that no student is left hidden between seats, Glaude said.
"The child safety buzzer goes off when the bus comes to a stop to make sure buses are completely empty," he said.
All bus drivers are trained and certified in First Aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation with the appropriate equipment aboard each bus, Glaude said.
In recent years, HISD's bus fleet has earned second place over 100 other districts in an annual tournament called Bus Rodeo Texas. The HISD buses competed with buses from other area school districts, then educational regions and then on the state level, maneuvering like a cowboy would ride in a barrel race, through and around obstacles.
The big differences are that a barrel racer doesn't have to back up without hitting anything or work together with bus lifts to accommodate wheelchairs.
Any incident on a bus, whether another car or person is involved or not, is reported, Glaude said.
"We look at everything. Hitting a tree limb is a reportable incident," he said. "The report asks how did you hit it, why did you hit it, how could you have prevented it."
Glaude suggested that training on the job, beginning with the pre-semester 101 Texas School Bus Training course, is the reason why accidents are going down although the number of students in HISD increases every year.
"We send our drivers back to school every year and the drivers take courses, each one 55 minutes long, then they rotate to the next course," he said. "We give them the rules, just as we give the students the rules so that they can respect the rules more."
Currently, HISD's bus driver with the longest time on the job has been with the district for 36 years. Right behind that is an 81-year-old woman who has been with HISD for more than 30 years.
"She's probably better at the job than some of the drivers who are in their 20s," Glaude said. "We use our more experienced drivers to teach the less experienced ones. We try to push that this is not a job, it's a career. A way of life. My grandkids ride the bus. I want them to be safe."