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School bus company stresses safety first at demonstration in Burbank

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Joaquin Arias, a safety specialist with First Student Bus Co., demonstrates the new child-safety check system on a First Student school bus parked at Johnny Carson Park in Burbank on Monday. First Student Bus visited Burbank to teach about bus safety.
(Photo by James Carbone)

Students commuting to class on school buses have a better chance of reaching campus safely than by any other means of automotive transportation.

That’s the message and statistical information presented during an event featuring representatives from First Student Bus Co., the country’s largest school-bus transportation provider, Monday morning at Johnny Carson Park in Burbank.

The safety demonstration was scheduled to coincide with the start of school for the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second-largest school district, which kicked off its new school year on Tuesday.

Locally, First Student provides busing services to special-education students in the Burbank and Glendale unified school districts, along with Clark Magnet High School in La Crescenta.

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Glendale Unified is set to begin its new school year on Wednesday, while Burbank Unified started classes on Aug. 12.

“The purpose of today’s event was to highlight just how safe an option school buses are,” said Melvin Florence, transportation manager for First Student. “One thing I’d like to bring up is that buses are approximately [70] times safer than being driven to school and even 10 times safer than walking.”

Florence was citing statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Joaquin Arias, a 25-year veteran and trainer with First Student, said he prepares more than 50 drivers a year with courses that last between six to eight weeks.

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The First Student school bus has a new more visible stop sign and red lights to alert drivers, demonstrated at Johnny Carson Park in Burbank on Monday. First Student visited Burbank to teach and demonstrate bus safety.
(Photo by James Carbone)

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“We constantly train all year long,” Arias said.

Florence added that training usually requires roughly 50 hours, with a minimum of 20 hours each in the classroom and in the field.

Arias said a bus-driver trainee must obtain a driving permit from the Department of Motor Vehicles, pass written and driving tests from the California Highway Patrol and earn a commercial license before First Student will give the certification necessary to drive students.

“California has more rigorous regulations than any other state to make sure we have the best of the best,” Florence said. “It takes a bit to get the quality driver that’s out there, but California makes sure that happens, and First Student does the same thing.”

In addition to driving skills, Florence said First Student uses the Child Check-Mate System, which was designed to prevent children, some of whom fall asleep during the ride, from being left behind on buses.

The system sets off an alarm once the bus driver has turned off the vehicle’s ignition. The driver must walk to the back of the bus and check for children along the way, before turning off the alarm at the rear of the bus.

“Today, we’re out here to let parents and families know just how much we’re dedicated to safety,” Florence said. “There is no safer way to get to school than by school bus.”

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