School bus accidents declined in Prince George's County in the past school year to 176, from 208 in the previous school year, the school system reported.

No passengers were injured seriously enough to be hospitalized in any of those accidents, said John Huffman, transportation director for the public schools.

Huffman said the total reflects some fender-benders. "If a driver scrapes another bus backing into a lot, they have to report that and we call it an accident," he noted.

The county fleet of 686 buses traveled a total of 11.5 million miles last year, or 60,000 miles a day, Huffman said. The buses carried 70,000 students each day.

When school busing for desegregation began in 1973, 33,000 of those students were bused for purposes of integration, but Huffman said that statistic is unknown today.

The average school bus is about 6 years old, he said. Under a recently changed state law, school buses must be retired after 12 years of service, up from a 10-year requirement two years ago. Fifty-eight new buses were added to the fleet to replace older buses this year.

The buses are inspected by the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration three times a year, Huffman said, and the average bus is driven 15,000 miles a year, with tires changed about every 10,000 miles.

Bus drivers in Prince George's must have five years of driving experience and pass the state tests for a license. Applicants also must have clean driving records and no criminal convictions, Huffman said. They spend three days in classroom training and a minimum of 12 hours training behind the wheel before they are taken on as substitute drivers.

"Eventually they may become full-time drivers," Huffman said. "We can be very choosy about who we take."