When driving a school bus, the most dangerous time is during loading and unloading.
The May issue of School Transportation News published an article titled, “Slicing Up the Danger Zone.” This issue is basic and critical to student safety and needs to be taught and reinforced with everyone involved in pupil transportation. I congratulate the author of the article for bringing the issue to the forefront, but this is not a new issue. As a 64-year veteran in the pupil transportation industry, it is disturbing to me that the issue has been discussed over and over for years with little meaningful corrective action.
From 2008 to 2017, 49 percent of the children killed in school-transportation related crashes were between 5 and 10 years old. To illustrate my point, more school-aged children were killed between 7 to 7:59 a.m. and 3 to 3:59 p.m., than during any other time of day. From September to November 2018, 36 students were hit and 12 were killed. These numbers have yet to be reflected in a more recent database.
It is my opinion that renewed emphasis on “The Danger Zone” gained interest only because three students from the same family were hit and killed by a passing motorist while crossing the roadway. As a result of this “high profile” tragedy, the district eliminated all student crossings and adopted only right-hand stops. One must ask why it took this horrific tragedy to impel this change.
As noted in the May STN article, California addressed the issue in the 1930s by having school bus drivers cross young children. This practice continues today and as a result, no children crossed by drivers have been hit. One can assume that there was pushback over what, as it was probably not a popular decision at the time, yet the right action was taken, and the results are demonstrable.
No students crossing on highways is an idea worthy of serious consideration. Why do we permit 5- to 10-year-old children to cross by themselves while admitting that drivers are increasingly distracted, that more vehicles are passing buses, and knowing that children, especially the youngest, are unable to understand and perceive approaching danger the same way an adult does? I urge all pupil transportation personnel to watch AAA’s “Children in Traffic” because it graphically demonstrates this fact. Once you have seen this video can you still justify having young children cross the roadway by themselves?
Another resource all student transporters must be familiar with is Section 10 of their state CDL manual, “Loading and Unloading and Crossing Students.” But did you know that no changes have been adopted to improve the federal and state CDL manuals since 2005? Here are a few procedures that should be in section 10:
- Do not blow your horn at passing vehicles. Your concern is for the students, and that action will not make the vehicles stop.
- Teach students that when they are crossing a road, if you blow the horn it is because they are in danger and they need to follow their bus driver’s direction.
- Standardize and teach drivers to use one and only one way to signal students to cross the roadway. All drivers shall use that signal when crossing students.
Wait until all traffic is stopped before signaling students to cross the road. This single action can prevent a tragedy. Over the years I have heard many drivers say, “I wish I could do it over again.” Take all the time you need when loading and unloading. You might be in a rush to unload students but if tragedy strikes, you will be there a lot longer.
No discussion on the danger zone around school buses is complete without addressing mirror use and adjustment. Transportation supervisors, do you know that the majority of your school buses do not meet the FMVSS 111 standard, even as they arrive from the manufacturer or dealer? Refer to Section 10 of your state CDL manual and then walk your yard.
Additional Websites to Research
NHTSA Guideline No. 17 for Pupil Transportation Safety
Pay particular attention to Section C, No. 2 “Vehicles”
Reviewed and changed every five years during National Congress on School Transportation
For example, on a Type D bus when using the left crossover mirror, the driver cannot see what needs to be seen because the driver side windshield sidebar and the dashboard block most of the mirror, unless the driver is hunched up over the steering wheel. It is mounted too low.
On a Type C bus, the mirrors are adjusted by drivers or mechanics and are frequently used to see the front red lights or are used as driving mirrors. Drivers say, “I need to see if they (red lights) are on.” Does that mean that the driver did not get out of the bus to see if the rear lights were on?
These actions increase the danger to the children by decreasing the area of the danger zone that the driver can see. I encourage you to check the following references for additional information on mirrors:
Discussion concerning increasing the fine for passing a bus, loss of a driver’s license, making all stops on highways right side only, cameras on the bus to catch passing vehicles, crossing gates and crossing arms to block roadways, and video cameras and sensors. As the author notes in the STN May article, only one of these proposed actions is proactive. All the others, though no doubt well-intentioned, are reactive and have yet to be proven consistently effective.
Of all the pupil transportation conferences that I have attended over my lengthy career in the industry, I’ve always heard that children are our most precious cargo and that their safety is our first and foremost responsibility. As discussion swirls endlessly about how to best meet this responsibility, it is both frustrating and distressing that two proven actions that have been around for years and are widely acknowledged to be industry best practices are ignored. I am not against advancing technology however, as the May STN article points out, of all the advances that sounded so promising, most have not lived up to expectations.
I hope we are still not discussing this topic 12 months from now.
Fischer is the owner and president of Trans-Consult and is a past member of the School Transportation News editorial advisory board. He started began driving school buses in 1952 and eventually became a director of transportation at multiple school districts in California. A member of the National Association for Pupil Transportation Hall of Fame NAPT Hall of Fame, Fischer was instrumental in President Richard Nixon proclaiming the first National School Bus Safety Week in 1969. Fischer also helped form the California Association of School Transportation Officials.