Post-holiday bus crashes concern parents, officers

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The holidays are over. School is back in session. And, it's been a dangerous week for school buses driving on our area roads.

In the last two days, we've reported four separate crashes involving buses in Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties. It's a trend that law enforcement doesn't want to see continue.

The most recent crash happened Wednesday afternoon in Gibsonton. Florida Highway Patrol says an SUV ran the red light at U.S. 41 and Gibsonton Drive, colliding with the school bus. Witnesses say it nearly tipped over.

"It just t-boned into the side of the bus here," said Joseph DiBella of Gibsonton. "They were going pretty fast because it is messed up."

Hillsborough County Schools spokesperson Tanya Arja said bus 4354 was carrying four students from Gibsonton Elementary. They're safe.

The driver of the SUV was taken the hospital. Their condition is unknown.

It was the fourth crash in just two days involving a local school bus. Tuesday afternoon, a driver ran red light in Clearwater, slamming into a Pinellas County school bus, causing it to hit a concrete pole.

"You don't know what to expect. The first thing you think is how many kids are on board?" said witness Jon Weaver.

Both drivers suffered non-life-threatening injuries. The single student onboard was not hurt.

Minutes later, a car rear-ended a bus in Lealman. And while the car caused it, troopers later found the bus driver was under the influence.

The third of the day happened in St. Pete. Troopers say, this time, the bus driver was a fault for running a stop sign and hitting an SUV.

"A lot of crashes that we see are yes, the fault of other drivers interacting in and around the buses," said Sgt. Steve Gaskins of Florida Highway Patrol. "Do we have occasions when the bus drivers make a mistake? Yes, we do."

While the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says school buses are about seven times safer than passenger cars or trucks, they're not invincible.

Whatever's behind this recent trend in our area, troopers are reminding all drivers to take a deep breath, be vigilant, expect buses to make frequent stops and remember - there's precious cargo onboard.
"They're painted bright yellow, they're visible so people can see them," Gaskins said. "Give them a wide berth. Give them a place to let the kids off safely. We have kids on those buses and one of our most prized possessions is our kids. We want them to get to and from school safely."