CRESTVIEW — A sharp increase in the number of school-bus-involved crashes in Okaloosa County is raising eyebrows and concerns as officials struggle to tackle the issue.
Since the beginning of December, 11 school buses have been involved in crashes and none of them was caused by a bus driver, according to Jay McInnis, the district’s transportation director.
Prior to then, the district had only five buses struck by other vehicles this school year.
“It seems like every week we have a bus accident and we’re all just scratching our heads asking, ‘What on earth is happening?’ ” said Okaloosa County Superintendent of Schools Mary Beth Jackson.
In the latest crash, which occurred at about 7:40 a.m. Monday, a Northwood Elementary bus was at a stop at Mount Olive Road when it was struck from behind, according to Deputy Superintendent Kaye McKinley.
Nine students were taken to the emergency room, but all had been treated and released by mid-afternoon.
Although injuries in that crash weren’t severe, officials worry that it’s only matter of time before something worse happens and are urging drivers to pay attention.
“We would just really, really appreciate it if folks would take an extra second,” Jackson said. “Those buses are big and yellow for a reason.”
According to McInnis, it is not uncommon to see 16 crashes involving school buses in a year, but it is surprising to see them so close together.
Right now, officials can’t pinpoint any one cause for the uptick, he said.
“It’s not like they’re all in the north end or all in the south end; they’re all spread out,” McInnis said.
The type of accident also varies, he said.
They’ve had buses rear-ended, side-swiped and t-boned. They’ve even had a driver back into a school bus passing behind their driveway, McInnis said.
Transportation officials in neighboring counties said accidents involving buses are always a concern, but they haven’t experienced an extraordinary amount so far this year.
In Walton County, for example, only two school buses have been struck by another vehicle this school year, according to Jim Hicks, the transportation director for the Walton County School District.
“I just think folks are just preoccupied with something else besides driving,” he said.
The bigger problem for them right now is the number of drivers passing school buses loading and unloading students. In fact, the issue has become such a concern that Walton County deputies are frequently following school buses in unmarked vehicles trying to spot violators, he said.
Jackson said that’s an issue they’re also looking into in Okaloosa County.
In Santa Rosa County, which contracts with a private company for its school buses, Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick said while the number of crashes might be a little up this school year, they’ve recently had a “safety blitz” that resulted in a few changes that seem to have had a positive impact.
The total number of crashes for the district wasn’t immediately available from the contractor.
Contact Daily News Staff Writer Katie Tammen at 850-315-4440 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @KatieTnwfdn.