HELENA – Waiting for the school bus can be dangerous, especially in rural areas during the winter months.
The National Safety Council says school bus-related crashes killed 95 people nationwide in 2017. And the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports the most dangerous part of a trip to school isn’t riding the bus, but getting on or off one.
A school bus driver in Helena decided to do something about those statistics and is now getting recognized on a national level.
Katee Horner’s goal to get reflective safety belts for all of her students started last fall. That’s when multiple kids died or were injured after being hit near school bus stops across the country.
“It’s heartbreaking, scary,” she said. “You have this sudden sense of worry, and concern for not just my own kids, because I have two very young boys, but for all of my students.”
Horner, an Army veteran and first year bus driver, made it her mission to get belts for her students. Then, parents and businesses pitched in to help bus 31.
Horner ended up gathering dozens of reflective belts.
“We have extremely safe school buses, with seat belts across all of them, to include five point harnesses for our preschoolers and kindergartners, but what’s keeping our kids safe at the bus stop?” said Horner. “So I decided, the Army wears reflective belts! I wore a reflective belt all the time. Why don’t we have our kids wear them?”
Because of her idea, Horner got second place in the safety category of the nationwide Be First awards. She traveled to Cincinnati recently to accept her award.
First Student Location Manager Bevann Hamill told MTN she hopes the idea catches on in other states.
“We wear these high-vis vests in our yards so we’re seen, and how much more important is that we have our students seen at the bus stops?” she said.
She said they are proud of Horner and her idea, but what they want most is for people to take school bus safety seriously.
“We just ask the community to be hyper-vigilant about them being there,” she said. “If you see kids there, slow down, take a look.”
According to Hamill, they are working with the school district to get more reflective belts for students who need them along rural routes in the Helena area.
Those should be ready to go by fall. They won’t be required, but recommended.
“You can’t put a price on a child’s life,” said Horner.
Hamill said parents can also buy a belt themselves online, for around $10. They come in a variety of colors.