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New Hanover County schools improving school bus safety

WILMINGTON -- The Director of Transportation for New Hanover County schools says putting seat belts on buses may do more than prevent injuries in the event of an accident. A series of school bus crashes in the past few months have compelled the US Secretary of Transportation to propose installing seatbelts on school buses nationwide. In addition, some local experts say seatbelts may help prevent accidents from happening in the first place. Bus rides to and from school can get a little hectic-- just ask some of the passengers. Myrtle Grove Middle School rider Kenyetta Stroman said, "When people jump the seats while the bus is riding, or when people crawl under it." Bus rider Nicholas Miller said, "The worst thing I've seen is people maybe tossing something back and forth. Like a basketball back and forth." Laura Severt has been a bus driver for New Hanover County schools for 14 years. She's never been in an accident, but worries every time she's distracted by her young passengers. Severt said, "Causing a problem or an issue, no matter how minor, that affects everybody's safety on the bus." New Hanover County schools Director of Transportation Mick Wayne said, "Taking your eye off the road for one second is dangerous because in one second a lot can happen." One possible solution to curbing bus driver distractions is seat belts. New Hanover County is already experimenting with seatbelts on some of its buses. Wayne says the experiment proves seatbelts make for a quieter ride. Wayne said, "It was fantastic! We had no discipline problems. The children were safe and the parents we're very receptive to the seatbelts." But others, like Severt, say seatbelts may be more harmful than helpful. She said, "Personally, I would choose not to have seatbelts on buses. If there were an accident and the driver was hurt, the kids would not have a way to get out if they needed to get out in a hurry." Wayne says installing seatbelts in buses could cost up to $10,000 per bus. He says he's optimistic it will happen, it just may be a while before he gets the money to do it. A state law went into effect December 1 that will also help curb driver distraction: school bus drivers are now prohibited from using cell phones. Both Wayne and Severt support the law and agree that it will make buses safer.

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