It's safety first for school buses in West Linn thanks to educated, cautious drivers
by: VERN UYETAKE From left: Carol Hoeger, Brenda Morris, Dawn Buchanen, Darelle Brace, Irene Whittaker and Don Allen share a First Student bus that operates in the West Linn-Wilsonville School District – staffed by the safest bus drivers in the Northwest.

Parents can be confident putting their little ones on West Linn school buses this fall. Their drivers are the safest in the Northwest.

West Linn's bus service provider, First Student, recently won a Presidential Award for safety from its parent company, First Student Inc. The award was for the 'Safest Small City First Student Location.' The states competing were Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Colorado and Alaska.

'We are all working together to make the children's ride to and from school as safe and comfortable as possible,' said Irene Whittaker, First Student location manager. 'We all understand how the parents faithfully give us this precious cargo. I am extremely proud to be part of our team and look forward to another great year with all their help.'

West Linn's services are part of First Student Inc., a national student transportation provider in North America. They serve more than 1,500 school districts with more than 60,000 buses.

'It was quite a surprise,' Whittaker said. 'It was an honor for us.'

Whittaker said the awards are based on weekly statistics each bus company must turn in, such as the number of accidents, safety violations and number of workers' compensation claims (which was zero for last year).

The West Linn-Wilsonville bus company has more than 100 employees and runs about 100 buses.

To keep drivers on task and educated, the bus company holds mandatory trainings in subjects such as bullying awareness and sleeping children.

Surprisingly, sleeping kids can be a big issue for drivers. At the end of every route, drivers must walk the entire length of the bus looking under every seat making sure no one has been left behind. To ensure this happens, drivers must push a button at the back of the bus before exiting, otherwise the horn will blast.

Another safety tactic the company employs is announcements made three times a day. The tips keep the drivers constantly thinking of the safety of the children and for those around them.

The bus company also takes safety to the streets. A study was conducted of all the dangerous intersections in the district. Then, routes were adjusted to avoid those intersections.

Whittaker credits her staff, though, for the award achievement.

'It's the commitment from the drivers to do the best they can,' she said. 'We've been telling them for some time they are No.1.'

Though she quick to add that all the other surrounding bus companies are all striving to achieve the same level of safety.

'She's just so proud of her staff,' said Kathy Ludwig, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction for the district. 'It's no accident they earned that award. No pun intended.'

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