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The cost of carelessness

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Bill Wyatt

Henry County has had three crashes involving school buses in one week, and that may be a record.

It started on Monday when a pickup truck and a school bus collided, sending the bus down a steep embankment and three of its students and the bus driver to the hospital.

Then on Tuesday a car and a school bus traded paint in a second collision. There were no students in the bus, but one person was taken to the hospital.

And then on Friday morning a third crash occurred when a pickup truck and a school bus struck each other head-on. The bus careened into a guardrail, and the truck caught fire.

By the time the Fieldale Volunteer Fire Company arrived to that Friday wreck, the truck was fully engulfed in flames and two people were taken to the hospital, but fortunately the bus contained no students.

Also Friday afternoon a Pittsylvania County school bus was involved in a crash with another vehicle. Again, there were no kids on the bus, but the drivers of both vehicles were injured.

If these instances are not traumatic enough, they are still overshadowed by the horrific scene a week before of a vehicle crash that cost a Magna Vista High School senior his life and three passengers incurred life-threatening injuries.

The four students were on their way to school when the car they were in left the road, struck a tree, overturned and then broke apart.

As I reflect on the coverage of these events of the past eight days, I’m also writing the story of the Axton Elementary School third-grader who was struck by a hit-and-run driver while getting off the school bus at the end of a school day in September.

Still recovering from his life-threatening injuries, his resolve to live and his optimistic spirit became the impetus behind the invitation for him to be honored as this year’s MHC Christmas Parade grand marshal.

Henry County Public Schools Director of Communications Monica Hatchett told me after the third school bus crash that she couldn’t emphasize enough the importance of everyone being especially mindful of the vehicles around them and driving with caution.

As cliché as that may sound, it bears repeating; almost all vehicle crashes are the results of careless and inattentive driving.

The Virginia Department of Transportation’s report for last year shows there were 225 school bus crashes in the state in 2020.

That’s a very small percentage of all traffic crashes, but it’s still sobering to consider that 34 school bus drivers and 45 school bus passengers were injured as a result of driving or riding a school bus.

The most common causes of these crashes are failure to yield, improper turning and improper backing.

Other causes include following too closely, improper passing and improper lane change.

All of these fall into that broader category of driver error.

And lest we forget, we are in the midst of a school bus driver shortage that resulted in the National Guard in Massachusetts being called upon to drive students to school and in Philadelphia one school district has offered families $3,000 to drive their own kids to school.

Not too long ago I reported a pedestrian fatality. It involved a lady who had gotten off work on a rainy night and a man crossing the street when visibility was poor.

Her vehicle struck the man in the middle of the road, and even though she admitted to police that she was driving too fast on the rain-slick road, no charges against her were ever filed.

When I reviewed the woman’s driving record I found several speeding convictions and a charge of failure to stop for a school bus stop sign.

Some people are reckless by nature, but all of us are reckless at times, especially when life gives us reason to make us think we can defy the odds.

Eventually the odds turn against us and we are faced with the reality of our poor decisions.

So say a prayer for the families involved in these recent but preventable tragedies and mishaps, and then keep your mind on the drive, your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road.

Bill Wyatt is a reporter for the Martinsville Bulletin. He can be reached at 276-638-8801, Ext. 2360. Follow him @billdwyatt.


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