The Missouri Association for Pupil Transportation distributed DVDs for free at the NAPT Summit in October that shared how the parents of a 6-year-old boy who was struck and killed by his own school bus, are working with districts and drivers to ensure similar tragedies don't occur in the future.
Jacob Wright tripped and fell shortly after disembarking his bus the afternoon of Dec. 16, 2004, in Knowsho, Mo., and was run over by his bus driver. The driver, who died about a year after the incident, was reportedly distracted by a skateboarder who was approaching the bus, and he did not account for Jacob's whereabouts before pulling away from the stop.
Jacob's older brother Jeremiah, who was eight at the time, witnessed the incident as did 22 other students on the bus. Now Jeremiah is joining his mother Terri and father John in working with MAPT to remind drivers and trainers of the dangers to students at bus stops, as well as best practices to increase safety.
"Everything about our family changed the day Jacob was killed," said Terri, who said Jeremiah went from an extrovert to a despondent young boy who couldn't even attend school. "It slowly is getting back to normal now. We've kind of found a new normal without Jake."
Added John: "Part of the healing process is finding that new normal, because nothing will ever be the same."
The 32-minute video, produced by MAPT and included in the association's "School Bus Danger Zones" DVD produced earlier this year, details Jacob's death and how Terri and John are now taking steps to make sure the same thing doesn't happen again.
"We want to honor Jake's memory in every single way but to remind us that God has a plan and purpose for everything," Terri added.
The first tip given in the video relates to the positioning of the school bus at stops. Bus drivers should be trained to bring the bus to a stop in such a way that avoids intersections and that allows students to remain in the driver's line of sight as they leave the bus and walk away. Terri points out that there rarely is a perfect bus stop, one devoid of blind spots, for instance.
Often stops don't have sidewalks, or are bordered by shrubbery or trees. The Wrights always taught their children to avoid walking through yards on their way to and from the bus stop, and Jacob's and Jeremiah's bus stop was located where there were no sidewalks. So, to avoid walking through yards, students would have to walk directly along the length of the bus as they left the stop. That contributed to tragedy in Jacob's case.
Another tip for all drivers is to perform a head count of all students on the bus, as well as to count the number of kids who get off at each stop. Then, the driver should match that count with the children as they walk away from the bus to ensure all are accounted for. If the count is off, that means one student might still be out of eyesight in the danger zone, Terri warned.
The third tip given relates to safety education for drivers, how often and frequent as necessary. Essentially, the Wrights said annual in-service training on loading and unloading is not enough, and drivers should be retrained monthly, weekly and upon returning from any sort of school break to avoid complacency.
The Wrights also said the safety training must include the students themselves. John said children should be shown exactly how far 15 feet is, which is how far they should be from the bus before loading and after unloading. Many young children cannot tell the difference between short and longer distances, he added.
The video is just one produced by MAPT to address loading and unloading zone safety. Last year, MAPT and the Missouri School Boards Association produced "Driving Distracted ... and then it happened," a training video (below) that included tips on how to avoid distraction behind the wheel. It also recounts the Jan. 18, 2011, death of a 6-year-old Callaway County boy who was run over and killed by his own school bus after getting off the bus at his home. A Missouri State Highway Patrol report on the accident concluded that the bus driver did not wait long enough after the student got off to clear the area around the bus before he set the bus in motion again.