Dothan school’s transportation department, City of Dothan Public Works department, and police departments work to promote efficiency in traffic, but officials said their No. 1 goal is always safety.
“Everything about a school bus is for safety,” Dothan City Schools Transportation Director Jay Bruner said. “The color of a school bus — that color is only found on a school bus. That color is the one color that people can identify quicker than most other colors. It’s called ‘School Bus Yellow’.”
The vehicle’s dimension, which averages 10 feet, 6 inches in height, and 40 feet in length, along with headlights, stop-arm lights, eight-way lights, hazard lights, handrails, fire extinguisher placement and the seats are all designed to ensure the well-being of those inside.
The seats, Bruner noted, have specific width, height, and distance between the other seats to compartmentalize.
“That is meant to protect the kid in case of impact,” he said.
Every bus is also equipped with eight cameras —twice the state’s minimum required — that have live-viewing capability.
Bruner uses AngelTrax, a software program that allows him and others to monitor buses’ exact location in real time. He can also monitor their speed limit and traffic so he can re-route buses if necessary. They’re recorded, so if someone calls the office with a query or complaint, Bruner can pinpoint potential problems.
Bruner said everything the transportation department does addresses student safety, including the maintenance of its bus fleet, which is part of the reason he is in the process of ridding the district of old, cost-heavy buses.
He said that, before recent purchases, 27 percent of the district’s bus fleet was more than 10 years old.
The school board recently signed off on the purchase of 31 new buses for the school system, which will replace a third of its fleet. The $2.6 million acquisition will allow the district to sell buses older than 10 years, Bruner said.
Twenty-four will be regular buses, three are special education buses that have safety equipment and air conditioning, and four will have fold-down seats with restraints that will exclusively transport Head Start youngsters.
As a first and last point of contact every day, bus drivers are significant in the lives of the children they transport. That fact, Bruner said, is why there is much training required to obtain certification.
There are many qualifications; potential drivers must have a clean background, good driving record, CDL license with passenger and school bus endorsements, completion of training, and continued yearly training with the state department.
On the gates outside the bus barn, bus drivers are reminded of their duty to safety every day when leaving the facility to pick up around 4,500 students to deliver from schools to home.
Jerry Eddings, who drives Bus 39 for Dothan City Schools, understands his role in the life on his children – to keep them safe and be a positive influence in their lives.
“Nothing makes me more joyful than having a kid running up to me in the mall, saying ‘Mr. Jerry! Mr. Jerry!’ and hugging ya and saying ‘You’re the best bus driver I ever had’,” Eddings said. “I mean, it’s just a lot more than driving a bus.”
He said he knows he can make or break a kid’s day. Because of that, he commits to weekly Friday rituals to get them excited for the weekend and has participated in fundraisers to help out his kids and their families.
“If I’m having a bad day, I sure can’t let them know it,” he said. “I’ve got be even keel, because sometimes the bus driver is the only even keel person they’ll see all day.”
The transportation department also works with the city to regulate traffic in its carpool lanes and school zones.
Part of the reason behind the new carpool lane at Dothan Prep was to keep the buses totally separate from the children being picked up, ensuring their well-being and reducing chances of traffic incidents.
“We always work through with all the schools as we’re requested to try to help them in any way we can,” Public Works Director Charles Metzger said. “This includes adding sidewalks where they make sense as far as pedestrians and pedestrian safety. You know, we have pedestrian crossings down on South Oates, Selma Street, we’ve got pedestrians crossings and signals and things like that for them.
“Anybody going into those areas needs to pay attention, slow down and realize that in those two times, at drop-off and pick-up, it’s going to take some time.”
Over the years, the city has paid for the construction of sidewalks adjacent to Morris Slingluff, Cloverdale, Faine, Girard, Selma Street, and Grandview Elementary schools through the Community Development Block Grant program.
School zones are maintained by the Public Works department and overseen by four officers in the Dothan Police Department’s Traffic Division whenever possible.
“If there’s a crash near the high school, it pulls them away. We don’t have anyone dedicated to the school zones,” Sgt. Chris Watson said.
Each school does use school resource officers to monitor traffic at each school, Watson said. But, he urged the people of Dothan to avoid those areas completely if possible, especially in the mornings.
“If you don’t have a child that goes to a school, help us out, maybe take another route, try to stay away from the schools. That would help us out greatly,” he said.