It doesn’t happen too often nationwide but often enough, especially of late, according to student transportation experts Kathy Furneaux and Peter Lawrence. “It” refers to “100-percent preventable” incidents where students become caught or snagged by the school bus service door during loading or unloading.
Furneaux, the executive director of the Pupil Transportation Safety Institute in Syracuse, New York, and Lawrence, the director of transportation at Fairport CSD in Rochester, published a paper last month that documents 28 reported incidents of students being shut in the service door occurring in 17 states since 2004. They shared the results with the New York Stated Education Department.
Additionally, they cited an April 4, 1997 article that reported eight students were killed dating back to 1991, which resulted in the school bus industry voluntarily recalling 160,000 buses to modify the handrail to prevent future deaths and injuries, Furneaux and Lawrence point out.
“Fortunately, these types of dragging incidents have been eliminated through better design and training,” write Furneaux and Lawrence. “However, the recent upsurge in dragging incidents draws attention back to the issues surrounding school bus design and driver training.”
Three recent events in New York state prompted the New York Association for Pupil Transportation to issue an advisory to members in January for re-training of bus driver to ensure they follow proper safety procedures at bus stops.
The paper concludes that today’s most common snagging incidents, similar to the handrail design flaw, are possibly caused by the placement of the service door switch commonly located to the let of the driver on the master panel or steering wheel. Furneaux and Lawrence suggest that these switch locations require the driver to look away from the door when opening or closing it, which could cause them to lose track of exactly where students are located before pulling away from the stop.
“Simply relocating this switch to a place in the sight line of the service door would allow the driver to look in the direction of the door while operating it,” they explain. “This, of course, is not the complete solution, but perhaps would contribute to efforts that prevent these service door draggings from occurring.”
They also claim driver distraction, ranging from two-way radios to managing student behavior and traffic congestion to bus stop challenges, plays a large role in students becoming caught in service doors and being dragged down the street.
“Nevertheless, at the moment the student is exiting the bus, nothing is more important than making sure the service door is cleared and the student has moved no less than 15 feet away from the bus before pulling back into the flow of traffic,” Furneaux and Lawrence add.
They offered up several training recommendations to help transportation operators avoid snagging and dragging incidents, including:
- Scan all mirrors for students outside of the bus
- Check cross-over mirrors to check for students in front of the bus, near the front wheels and in the service door area
- Next to last in the sequence – Glance back at the service door to look for students before actually moving the bus
- Perform mirror sweep once again before pulling out into traffic
The research results and suggested strategies to combat dragging incidents will be shared at the STN EXPO this July in Reno, Nevada.