Information On Keeping Children & Bus Drivers Safe
Summer is over and children are heading back to school. This means pedestrians, drivers and bicyclists need to share the road with the school buses. All of us need to be aware that what we do on the road can positively or negatively impact the safety of all the children going to or coming home from school.
Of course there are laws governing the rules of the road when it comes to drivers, but there are additional ways we can increase the overall safety of everyone in the community. From 2001-2010, approximately “1,368 people died in school transportation related crashes,” according to NHTSA. According to www.schoolbusfleet.com, “Occupants of school transportation vehicles accounted for 7% of fatalities, while another twenty one percent were non-occupants (pedestrians, bicyclists and other drivers).”
During a recent discussion, Lieutenant George Southard of The Town of Warrenton Police Department said, “Everyone in our community has roles and responsibilities that they need to know and maintain. When they don’t know them, that’s when accidents happen. It all comes down to common sense.” Southard has been with the Town’s police department for 31 years and in that time he said that “a good percentage of accidents are due to drivers’ inattention.” He recommends that drivers should “be attentive when you see a school bus and anticipate what can happen. Being prepared for the unexpected actions of children entering or exiting the bus is the best safeguard drivers can put into place.” Be aware, motor vehicle laws are not just for drivers. Southard explained that “bicyclists are under the same authority in the state of Virginia and have to follow the laws just as a driver of a vehicle does.”
Fauquier County Public Schools are determined to do everything they can to keep the children and bus drivers safe. According to the school division’s website (www.fcps1.org), “FCPS has written crisis, emergency management and medical response plans that the School Board reviews annually. The plan contains procedures, operations and assignments to prevent, manage and respond to critical events and emergencies, including bus/vehicle accidents.”
Ms. Cheryl Fisher, Director of Transportation, discussed the training system Fauquier County Public Schools has in place to educate bus drivers, “The main objective of any pupil transportation system is to transport passengers to and from school each day safely and efficiently. To achieve this goal, drivers and aides are thoroughly trained.” She also explained that not only does the “state require a minimum of 24 classroom hours, and 24 hours of behind-the-wheel training, a minimum of 10 of the 24 hours of behind-the-wheel time shall involve the operation of a bus with students on board.”
In Fauquier County drivers are given a six day classroom training, which exceeds the minimum required by the state. “Drivers and aides are re-certified every 3 years both in the classroom and behind-the-wheel and additional remedial training may be provided at any time,” according to Fisher. “CPR, first aid and defensive driving are all part of our standard curriculum.” Additionally, the school system implements training for the students on the bus. “Our trainers are exceptional. Each year they travel to each of the elementary schools providing bus safety training for the kindergarten students. This program is geared especially for them – teaching them how to politely share the seats, why it is important for them to stay seated and to use indoor voices. Twice a year all the drivers, aides and students practice their bus evacuations drills. We make these as realistic as possible in hopes that everyone will be prepared in the event of an emergency.”
When asked what the biggest challenge was to keeping children safe on the bus, Ms. Fisher said, “There are so many problems our drivers deal with each and every day on the roadways – aggressive drivers, distracted drivers, traffic and roadway congestion–but the safety concern in the forefront are motorists passing buses while they are loading and unloading is the most dangerous part of the trip for a student.” Fisher went on to say, “On any given day you will see drivers passing buses that are stopped, warning lights on and stop arms deployed with students trying to cross in front of the bus. Vehicles have also been seen passing on the right side of the bus–narrowly missing students as they step out of the bus or off the curb to enter the waiting bus.” When asked if she had any other information on the regulations regarding driving around school buses, she said, “First and most importantly is to simply STOP. I know that sounds far too basic but people truly are not stopping and are endangering our children.”
There are additional ways drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists can help improve the sometimes dangerous conditions for our community’s children. “Everyone needs to be alert–we are transporting our community’s precious cargo,” stated Fisher. Parents can help as well. Fisher mentioned that student behavior is “critical to the safety of the entire bus” and parents can discuss this important issue at home with their children and review the safety tips provided.
Inclement weather can also pose a risk to the drivers and students out on the road. Remember to leave plenty of space between your vehicle and the back of the school bus. Fisher noted, “motorists should remember that students may not be at their normal locations” after returning to school from a snow storm. Alternate bus stops may be used, so Fisher suggests “always be alert and watch for students.”
Lieutenant Southard also noted that if a driver cannot see the side mirrors of the school bus in front of them, they are too close. He suggests drivers maintain a safe distance from the rear of a school bus. The general rule of thumb is if a driver is able to see the side mirrors of the bus in front of them, the distance is proper, but in wet conditions such as rain or snow, and icy situations, drivers should allow an even greater distance.
Remember, we can all do our part to assist with safety–educate children and be attentive while sharing the road. Fisher demonstrated the drivers and county are committed to safety by saying, “Our drivers and aides are among the best, this is a difficult job with tremendous responsibility attached to it. Carrying 50 plus students, behind you, can be challenging. They [the bus drivers] do it because it is rewarding and they truly care about the students of Fauquier County.”
Safety Tips for Students
- Be on time to the bus stop.
- Stand back from the curb.
- Wait your turn to get on or off the bus. Never push or shove.
- Stay in your seat unless the driver tells you otherwise.
- Keep the aisle clear.
- Take at least 10 giant steps before turning when you get off the bus.
- Wait for the driver to give you the “thumbs-up” sign before crossing in front of the bus.
- Walk behind the bus.
- Crawl underneath a school bus. If you drop something, tell the driver and he/she will tell you what to do.
Vehicle Driving Tips
- You must stop for stopped school buses with flashing red lights and extended stop sign when you approach from any direction on highway, private road or school driveway. If you are behind the bus, stop your vehicle approximately 20-30 feet from the rear of the bus. Stop and remain stopped until all persons are clear and the bus moves again.
- You must stop if the bus is loading or unloading passengers and the signals are not on.
- You do not have to stop if you are traveling in the opposite direction on a roadway with a median or barrier dividing the road and the bus is on the opposite side of the median or barrier. However, be prepared for unexpected actions by persons exiting the school bus.
- Watch for turns – buses require wider turns.
- Maintain a safe distance from the rear of the bus.
- Recognize bus drivers have large blind spots.
- Prepare for sudden and frequent stops.
- Remember school buses stop at railroad crossings.
Information obtained from the DMV and Lieutenant Southard. For a complete listing of all state driving regulations visit www.dmv.state.va.
The Fauquier County Public Schools are always looking for school bus drivers, so if you or someone you know is interested, please visit the county website and complete an application. Taking care of the community’s children is a rewarding career that is appreciated by all within the county. Parents and children often develop a bond with their drivers and know what an important role they play in the safety of our kids. “My bus driver in elementary school was amazing,” said a 7th grader from Taylor Middle School. “She (the bus driver) baked me cupcakes and brought them to my house during the summer. She was always kind and caring to me on the bus and off. I miss her.”
This article was originally published in the September 2015 Warrenton Lifestyle Magazine.