BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. — Following a spike last year in school bus crash-related injuries in the Mountain Empire, school and law enforcement officials are preparing the hundreds of area school buses for the start of classes this month.

Preliminary data from the 2018-19 school year revealed that 11 people were injured in school bus crashes in the counties and cities of Southwest Virginia, according to information provided by the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles.

There were a total of seven bus crashes in Southwest Virginia, including three in Washington County, two in Bristol and one each in Smyth and Tazewell counties.

Since 2016, Washington County has had the most crashes and most injuries, data reveals. There have been 15 crashes and 18 injuries, according to the DMV.

One of the crashes in Washington County involved a bus from Giles County that crashed on Interstate 81 near Abingdon while en route to a band competition in Bristol. Eight of the 30 students from Narrows High School complained of minor injuries, Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said.

The 40-year-old driver was charged with following too closely after the bus crashed into the back of a tank truck.

Another Washington County bus crash occurred on March 19, when a truck crashed into a bus on Nordyke Road, injuring one student and the truck’s driver.

“Our buses go through a safety inspection at the bus garage every 40 to 45 days of operation, using guidelines set up by the [Department of Education],” Washington County School Superintendent Brian Ratliff told the Bristol Herald Courier.

During the summer, each bus goes through a more intense safety inspection, along with updating the Virginia State Inspection sticker, he said.

“We are down to the last six to eight buses, and the summer safety inspections will be done,” Ratliff said.

Washington County has 135 buses, including spare buses and extra trip buses. The county owns all of its buses.

Of the districts in Southwest Virginia, the city of Norton and Dickenson County had the fewest crashes. Norton had a crash in 2016 and Dickenson County had a crash in 2018, neither involving injuries.

Tennessee and Virginia bus drivers are required to obtain a commercial driving license with an S endorsement before operating a bus, officials said.

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