Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

School Bus Safety Arms Widely Used Vehicle That Hit Student Lacked Device; Oficials Recommend They Be Required

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

School Bus Safety Arms Widely Used Vehicle That Hit Student Lacked Device; Oficials Recommend They Be Required

Article excerpt

At least 28 states require school buses to have safety arms - metal rods that stretch 10 feet from the front of the vehicle and keep students out of a deadly blind spot.

Missouri doesn't require them. Neither does Illinois.

After a school bus without a safety arm killed a third-grader from Parkwood Elementary School in Maryland Heights on Halloween, both states might want to think about doing so, say several area transportation directors. "We'd never dream of putting a student on a bus without arms," said Anna Katinas, manager of transportation for the Parkway School District. "It just wouldn't be safe." All of the district's 114 buses have this safety device. Safety officials have been discussing school bus safety more than usual, following the death of Jessica Leicht, 8. The school she attended is in the Pattonville School District. More than 80 percent of school bus accidents causing injuries and fatalities to students occur when students are caught in a blind spot near the front or back of the bus. Nationwide, such accidents kill an average of 25 students a year. Since 1994, about five local students have died in those blind spots. There were no fatalities between 1990 and 1994. Jessica darted in front of a moving bus. The safety arm, about 8 inches thick, juts out from the front of the bus near the door only when buses are parked and drivers press a button. This activates the safety arm as well as red flashing lights and a stop sign directed toward traffic. Police cleared driver Mary Anne McNally of any responsibility for the accident. She looked but couldn't see Jessica, who was 4 feet tall, about a foot shorter than the top of the front grille of the full-sized yellow Ford bus. McNally, who received a district safety award last month, is on an indefinite, paid emergency leave. On the Monday after the fatal Halloween accident, counselors helped students and bus drivers, said Jeff Arnett, spokesman for the Pattonville School District. "It's been hardest for the bus drivers," he said. "This is their worst nightmare." Ten of the district's 51 buses have safety arms. The district wants to replace old buses with those equipped with safety arms, Arnett said. It will get three new buses this month. In 1991, the Missouri Department of Education offered grants that would cover 90 percent of the cost for installing safety arms, said Ron Noirfalise, director of pupil transportation. Each arm costs about $170. Lack of interest ended the program a few months later, Noirfalise said. "We had trouble spending the money," he said. Figures on bus safety measures used in Missouri and Illinois are unavailable because individual districts determine how to protect the 2.8 million students riding on nearly 30,000 school buses. The districts do not have to report specifics to the state education office. …

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