By Andrea Moyer
School is scheduled to begin here in our town in a week’s time so I thought now would be the perfect time to address one of my favorite topics: school bus safety! That’s right, as a former school bus driver, I’m well informed on this subject and will happily divulge the following:
- Bus drivers’ secrets – how DO they cope?
- What your bus driver wishes you knew about the school bus safety rules
- How to keep your children safe while using the school bus
So let’s get to it!
I was just about as nervous as you can imagine the first time I got behind the wheel of that large automobile. Not because I was wielding a 40-ft bus around towns that featured corners sharper than a hairpin and no fewer than eight railroad crossings, but because I knew eventually I’d be collecting little folks and teenaged folks and we’d all be wending our way around together in that big yellow behemoth. I was suddenly responsible for the safety and well-being of someone else’s children so I was understandably scared! Fortunately I had had excellent training so even though I was nervous, I was prepared for this new adventure. Probably more than anything else, bus driver training focused on safety. It was instilled in us from the very moment we decided to become school bus drivers and we practiced it each day unfailingly. Even with all that wonderful training, I still got nervous because of what could possibly go wrong.
So what are some of our secrets? Routine would be among the first that springs to mind. The one thing that helped me immensely as a bus driver, apart from the excellent safety training, was the routine of it all. Every day I travelled the same route, picked up the same students and drove with the same drivers to get to the same places at the same times each and every day, several times a day. While that sounds dreadfully monotonous, it saved my sanity on more occasions than I can recall.
Another would be communication. We communicated regularly with other bus drivers and with the garage base via a two-way radio, which, believe me, came in very handy for warnings about deer sunning themselves in the middle of the road (a real hazard in Pennsylvania!), the cyclist whizzing by on his way to work in the dark that we could hardly see, or, less alarmingly, road closures, downed trees and wires, or just vehicles who found themselves in places they had no business to be. All of these nuisances were very efficiently and seamlessly avoided because they had been communicated throughout the network of the school bus driver radio frequency.
Most importantly, as bus driver coping mechanisms go, we had the support of our peers. We had each other’s backs whether it was picking up a student that someone forgot to pick up or alerting a driver that his or her student was currently flying a kite out of the bus window. While that was monumental in and of itself, it would take too long to put into words and express adequately so I’ll save it for another blog.
Ok, so those were just a few secrets, a few tidbits as to how school bus drivers cope with the challenges presented to them on a daily basis, but what about safety tips? What can you do as a driver and a parent to ensure your children are practicing safe habits as they board and ride the school bus? And what’s the one thing school bus drivers wish above all else that they could impress upon the parents and other drivers?
One of the first things I’d teach my students was to watch for the red lights and stop sign before even attempting to approach the school bus. Before they got off the bus every afternoon I’d instruct them to be careful crossing and to watch for any unfamiliar vehicles and/or persons who are not usually there at their bus stop. If another vehicle drove through my red lights and stop sign while I was trying to unload a student safely, the rest of the students on the bus were trained to scribble down the license plate of the offending vehicle or, even better, to take a picture of it with their cell phones. My point is, students are by nature teachable, they want to learn and have the capacity to do it, so please take advantage of it and teach them, especially as they are not likely to conjure up these concepts on their own.
I queried some of my former coworkers, many of them seasoned bus drivers, and asked if they would share what they would most like to stress to parents. The overwhelming response? Teach your child to wait until the bus stops even before making a move to approach the bus. The driver can only do so much and I can tell you that when I was a bus driver it was my greatest fear that one of my students might be injured or, God-forbid, killed because he or she could not remember this simple safety rule.
As to my own personal pet peeve, I would hands-down nominate those impatient, impetuous drivers who refused to wait the less-than-ten-seconds that it took for students to get off the bus to a safe place and ran through my red lights/stop sign. I wish I could get it through to each and every driver to wait until the bus driver has finished either loading or unloading students before they drive past. Wherever you’re in a hurry to be, it’s not going to be any kind of excuse if a fatality occurs.
There are many safety rules that we had to abide by as drivers and also that we had to impart to our students. I’ve listed the top ten below. These are the most important and perhaps the most difficult to follow, but here goes:
1. Wait until the bus comes to a complete stop before making your way to the door – Avoid giving your bus driver heart failure by appearing at his or her elbow as they’re pulling up to your bus stop. You are not required to hurl yourself off a moving vehicle and until the driver opens the door, you’d make a poor job of doing so. If the driver has to suddenly stop, your seat is the safest place you can be. Believe me, this is one point I’ve had to drive home REPEATEDLY to some of my hardier students and I know I’m not the only bus driver to do so.
2. Wait until your bus driver signals you that it’s safe to cross a street before approaching the school bus – Over the years buses have evolved, if I may so put it, so that they now feature stop signs, yellow and red lights and everything short of the driver actually jumping out and signaling for traffic to stop. Unfortunately, even with all of these amenities, drivers continue to ignore approaching buses and jeopardize the safety of students who are trying to board the bus. Consider that your bus driver has eyes in the back of her head, sees things approaching that you’re unaware of and has your safety in the foremost part of her mind. Wait for her signal!
3. Stay in your seat while the bus is moving – See rule #1. I can’t tell you what joy it was to peer up into the wide mirror above my head with a view to “just checking” on my well-behaved students, only to catch one of them in mid-air as he leapt from seat to seat like a happy chimp. Despite numerous warnings and instructions, children will be children and they find it difficult to sit still, especially if they have longer bus rides. Parents, we need to impress upon our children the dangers of roaming the bus while it’s in motion!
4. Be at the bus stop at least five minutes early – Never, ever run to catch a school bus! Avoid this scenario entirely by making sure you’re at your stop at least five minutes before the bus arrives.
5. Stay on the same side of the road as your pickup location – As tempting as it might be to cross the road or street, avoid doing so. This is particularly important for younger children who are new to riding a school bus.
6. Stand at least three giant steps (about six feet) away from the curb – This is pretty self-explanatory.
Remember: most fatalities occur in the afternoon
7. Be safe when getting on and off the bus – always use the handrail! Also self-explanatory
8. Check that backpack straps are not caught on anything – This might sound trivial, but consider that the doors of the school bus close tightly and can easily grab a child’s backpack and drag the child away.
9. Wait until the bus has pulled away before stopping to pick up any fallen articles, such as loose papers or a ball. There is a ten foot danger zone around the school bus where the driver cannot see a child. You know those cross-arms that extend when the bus stops? That’s what they’re there for – to keep children from walking too close to the front of the bus where the driver cannot see them. Whatever has fallen under the school bus, be it a Frisbee or their math homework, tell your child it’s replaceable. Children are not!
10. Obey the bus driver and the rules! Both are there for good reasons and remember that it is a privilege, not a right, to ride the school bus.
I hope these will help you as we enter the new school year and may we all enjoy a safe and happy one together!