Photo courtesy of Rebekah Austin.
omes bus study
Oak Mountain Elementary students exit a bus during a simulation activity.
Debbie Horton may be principal of Oak Mountain Elementary School now, but she doesn’t feel all that far removed from her bus-driving days.
“When I first started teaching in Midfield, I drove a bus — we drove our own students on field trips,” Horton said. “I know firsthand the importance of the safety features of a school bus.”
So when a doctoral student from Auburn University approached her about OMES students helping with a study aimed at improving school bus safety, she was “all in.”
“We felt fortunate to be chosen for this research project because we felt like it could benefit students all over,” Horton said.
The study, done by Auburn doctoral candidate Yousif Abulhassan and his research team, walked young elementary school children through simulation activities to measure their ability to get out of a school bus in an emergency without adult help.
“Currently school buses are the safest mode of transportation,” Abulhassan said. “The purpose of conducting these studies is to make school buses a safer mode of transportation. With the data collected, we are able to better understand the physical capabilities of children and identify areas of improvement in the current emergency evacuation system.”
So students, like second-grader Drew McCullars, participated in exercises to see how fast they could exit the back of a school bus turned on its side, as well as out of the front and back of a school bus standing upright.
“We had to pull the lever and then push the door open by ourselves when the bus was on its side,” McCullars said. “And in the other one, we had to jump out the back of the bus onto some mats that they had put out. They wanted to see if everyone would be able to get out of the bus if something happened.”
They did it sometimes with adult instructions and other times without, said second-grader Caroline Kester.
“If they said the front of the bus was on fire, a kid would need to open the latch of the back door so that we could jump out,” she said. “If the back was on fire, then we would go through the front and down the stairs.”
The study measured the children’s hand span, the length of their arms and the force of their strength, Horton said.
“Some of the children could get the back door open easily when it was turned on its side, and others had a harder time,” Horton said.
The study highlighted some simple things that could be done to improve the ability of children to evacuate on their own, she said, such as a simple ratcheting system on the back door to keep it from closing again after children lift it up.
“It would keep it from pinching their fingers or hands and allow them to wriggle their way out,” she said.
The activities were completely safe for the children, but the research team still took precautions, such as having the children wear helmets and jump onto mats, Horton said.
“We are very excited and hope that all of his work will help make school buses even safer,” she said.