Lawrence public school children are in good hands when they step on a school bus.
The Laidlaw Transit branch serving the Lawrence district has been named the safest in the nation among more than 400 Laidlaw stations that collectively carry 2.4 million children daily.
"It has a lot to do with our training," said Bob Osborn, Lawrence branch manager. "I think it's the best in the business."
Drivers working out of the Lawrence branch traveled more than 1 million miles last school year without causing an accident. That earned the branch the best safety rating in an eight-state Midwest region and followed that up by finishing No. 1 nationally.
Wayne Zachary, who is in charge of safety training at the Lawrence depot on 23rd Street, said the company had each employee go through 40 hours of safety training.
The company offers incentives to its 120 drivers and bus monitors to promote good driving habits. Incentives included five days of paid vacation and gift certificates.
Laidlaw actively investigates complaints about unsafe decisions by bus drivers, Zachary said.
As the months without an accident piled up last year, Osborn said, employees also were motivated by personal pride to maintain a clean record.
"Everybody has to be committed to safety every day," he said. "There is a lot of traffic in this town. It's tough to get around. We have good people, and they work hard."
Statistically, riding a bus is much safer than riding in a car to school.
"Riding in a yellow school bus may not be the 'cool' thing to do in high school, but it's the safest way to go. Driving yourself, or riding with friends, is nearly 100 times more dangerous," said Don Paull, president of the National Association for Pupil Transportation.
The organization helps sponsor National School Bus Safety Week, which is Sunday through Oct. 26.
Laidlaw drivers and bus attendants have ideas about making the city a safer place to maneuver their big yellow rigs.
Kamischa Roberts, who drives a 75-passenger bus for Laidlaw, said some motorists interpret flashing lights on a school bus as a signal to hit the gas pedal.
"They think it means go," she said. "You think they would be courteous since we have their kids in there."
George Withers, who rides a special-education bus as an attendant, said motorists follow too closely behind moving buses and pass the buses carelessly.
"They'll do anything to get around," Withers said.
He said pedestrians also make it tough on bus drivers. Students and other people frequently walk too close to the sides of parked buses in school lots, he said.
"They walk between them, and you can't see people," Withers said.
Laidlaw will be the district's bus carrier through 2005. Last year, the company signed a five-year, $15.6 million contract with the district.