The driver of a Southwest Middle School bus got charged with reckless driving after she ran off Chapel Grove Road in Gaston County, North Carolina (NC), overcorrected and flipped the bus onto its side. More than 20 of the 45 children on board suffered injuries requiring hospital treatment, but all the kids are expected to make full recoveries.
According to the Gaston Gazette, the GPS system on the bus showed the vehicle was traveling at 40 mph through a curve that marks the threeway intersection where Chapel Grove changes its name to Linwood Road. The safest recommended speed there is 25 mph. In addition, the newspaper noted, the driver "told investigators a storage compartment door above the bus driver’s seat swung open, distracting her. When she reached to close the compartment, she veered off the road."
A state trooper speculated that many of the injured schoolchildren would have escaped unscathed had the bus been equipped with bench seatbelts. North Carolina does not require such safety equipment, however, nor are students riding in buses that have seatbelts obligated to use them. While some evidence supports mandating school bus seatbelts, the data are inconclusive and school districts already facing high transportation and vehicle maintenance costs claim that the additional expense of seatbelts would bust their budgets.
The real lessons to take from the rollover accident west of Charlotte are that drivers need to slow down when rounding curves and must keep their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road. No matter how familiar a route has become, and no matter how natural it may feel to reach out for a phone or glove compartment, this wreck shows that serious accidents often result from the smallest lapses in control and attention.