In the past 10 years, 31 children across North America were dragged by their school bus, including two who were killed. While 29 children survived the physical part, what about the lasting emotional trauma? Training bus drivers on ways to avoid dragging incidents as the 2019-2020 school year approaches could help avoid a dragging incident at your district, experts note.
Betty Hughes, a trainer for the Pupil Transportation Safety Institute (PTSI) in East Syracuse, New York, discussed student dragging incidents at a July 29 workshop session during the STN EXPO Reno.
This past school year, Hughes referred to two students who were dragged and showed a video of the “Dora the Explorer” movie trailer, that shows the title character becoming caught in her school bus loading doors and suspended in mid-air by her backpack as the bus drives away.
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Hughes took a deeper dive into why these incidents occur, and what bus drivers and transportation directors can do to cut back on these incidents at their own school districts. Hughes said the first step is properly training bus drivers on dragging and the safety zone.
However, as one attendee pointed out, the main problem is the hurry-up mentality that has become pervasive across society and the number of on-road distractions that continuously occur. Michael Benedict, a bus attendant at Alpine School District in Utah, said that bus drivers are reminded over and over to stay on schedule, but time should never trump safety, it was noted.
While there are various types of dragging incidents—students being dragged by their backpack, arm, leg, and jacket—the solution is always the same. “Check the door, once more,” Hughes recommended.
“We are focusing on a lot of safety at our district, so every topic relating to safety [at the STN EXPO in Reno] is a motivator,” said Greg Jackson, executive director of transportation for Jefferson County School District R1 in Colorado. “It’s just reinforcing a new way and a new approach of how to address it, and I gained some things that are really helpful to me,” he concluded.
Jackson reported, “I am taking back the mantra with me, ‘Check the Door Once More.’ It’s huge. And the materials that I have gained from this are going to be huge. [I will] be able to go back to my drivers and my training teams [and] start executing this.”
Hughes said that in the school transportation industry as with most jobs these days, one has to learn to multi-task. But there is a time when multi-tasking shouldn’t be conducted—when loading and unloading students. At that time, she added, there is no room for error.
While there are many contributing factors to a dragging incident, one that stood out to attendees more than the others is the current location of the switch to open the air-operated loading door. Hughes suggested that the switch should be moved away from the left side of the steering wheel. She explained that while students are unloading the bus to the driver’s right, drivers must turn away from and take their eyes off of the students to shut the door.
This same recommendation was the result of a 2015 white paper on student dragging that was authored by PTSI Executive Director Kathleen Furneaux and Peter Lawrence, director of transportation for Fairport CSD in New York state.
Hughes encouraged districts to influence bus manufacturers to move the door switch to the right side, but she also reminded bus drivers to watch their mirrors and focus on the tasks at hand.
Hughes shared a personal story of having to give up her Commercial Driver’s License, because one of her eyes had no peripheral vision. While she said it was hard to give it up, she knew it was the right thing to do, in order to ensure the safety of the children.
Hughes added that peripheral vision and the trajectory of the eyes are important when driving a motor vehicle, especially a school bus. If your head is slightly pointed in one direction, you might miss something happening on the other side, she explained.
What Can You Do to Ensure Safety During the New School Year?
Hughes recommended that bus drivers give themselves five extra seconds at each stop and ask their transportation directors to build in a little more time into route schedules for loading and unloading. She said that districts and bus companies sometimes ask drivers to do things that are impossible with the schedule they have.
Other measures Hughes flagged included the need to scan all of the mirrors, check the door for passengers, check properly adjusted cross-over mirrors, check the door once more, and perform that mirror sweep again, one more time.
“If we are not doing something that could help, we need to implement that to make our students safer on the bus,” said Mark Ketchum, a terminal manager for Littleton (Colorado) Public Schools. “It’s a good omen to say, ‘Check the Door Once More,’ which I will be using at our district.”