From a statistical standpoint a school bus, with, or without seat belts, is the safest vehicle your child will ever ride into, and that includes your own car. However, statistics are meaningless to the parents of those children who have become victims, or casualties of school bus, or school bus stop related accidents. When these accidents occur, people always wonder why? How could this have happened? Could it have been prevented? The truth is every bus procedure, and rule regarding the safe transportation of your child could be followed letter perfectly, and still something at any place, or at any time could just simply go wrong.
However, there are things that other drivers, and parents can do to make the bus trip for all our children a little safer. First, do not follow a school bus to close because in case you haven’t noticed our big yellow vehicles make frequent stops. Please take notice of the lights across the top of the bus in front, and back. The amber lights means caution we are on approach to a bus stop. When the bus is stopped the red lights come on, and the stop arms extend out. Some drivers apparently think our amber lights means speed up to get around the school bus before the red lights come on because this extremely dangerous practice is witnessed all to frequently. Another extremely dangerous practice done by drivers is running through our stop arms completely. Another, less frequently observed driver error, is getting ahead of us to beat us to a turn the instant they see our directional signal come on. Do not ever do this period. School bus stops are usually placed a few hundred feet away from street corners. There may be children somewhere near the corner your getting ready to careen around, and you will most certainly hit them if they are in, or near the edge of the road. Drivers must keep two things in mind here. First, regardless of the number of rules there are, children don’t always do what they are told to do. Two, rural roads, paved, or unpaved, never have shoulders, so expect children to be very close to the road in these areas.
Parents you have a responsibility to help us keep your children safe as well. First, please tell your children to stay out of the road while waiting for the bus, and please tell your children not to ever run, or even walk toward the bus while it is still moving toward the bus stop. Anyone of these actions could be a stage setter for a most horrible tragedy. When a child runs toward our bus, it forces us to make a quicker less safe stop. Even if your child gets on and off the bus right in front of your door, please do not let them dash for the bus until it is completely stopped because we will still stop short out of reflex to prevent them from running into one our many blind spots. If your child must cross the street to board the bus, tell them look for traffic then look at their bus driver, and wait for his, or her nod before they proceed across the street because from our vantage point in the bus we can see things that you, or your child may not notice. Second, please tell your children never to run back to the bus after they exit. Most elementary bus drivers are on guard for “run backs” because this is something small children are more likely to do than high school students, but the consequences for either could be lethal. Keep in mind that once the students exit the bus, and are clear of the bus from all visible points. The bus driver is preparing the bus to continue to the next stop by putting the bus back in gear, releasing the parking brake, and shutting off the red bus stop lights. If a child runs back for something, and the driver doesn’t see them in time because of a distraction inside, or outside the bus, the child could be hit, and killed. Third, tell your children not to reach for their friends in the windows after they get off the bus. If they were to get their hands caught in the window even momentarily, they could fall, and wind up being crushed by the rear wheels before we could stop the bus. Fourth, tell your children not to stick their heads, hands, arms, or hair out the window while the bus is moving down the road. This action is commonly seen, but extremely dangerous, and potentially deadly. If your child had their head out the window of a school bus traveling at the common residential speed of thirty miles per hour, and was struck flush by a tree limb only one inch in diameter, the impact could literally crush your child’s head. It is not uncommon to see a School Bus breeze by things very close. Sometimes traffic, or road conditions forces us to make tighter turns, or come closer to things than we prefer. We do watch for children popping their heads out the window, but we can’t see everything all the time.
These are just a few of the many challenges school bus drivers face each, and every day. I don’t think parents, teachers, or administrators can quite grasp what it is really like driving down the road with forty to seventy children behind you with no one to watch them except yourself through a mirror that you can only scan in intervals in a vehicle that is large enough, and heavy enough to literally go through a house. After thinking about this, it kind of makes you wonder how we do it every school day, and make it look way easier than it really is. The answer rests in what it takes to make a good bus driver. In my opinion, a good school bus driver is one part training, one part ability, and two parts caring. You can be trained, you can acquire ability, but the minute you stop caring you need to consider a career change before you really screw up, and hurt somebody. I have been a school bus driver for Citrus County for several years now, and I like my job despite the negatives. I transport children to, and from Citrus Springs Middle School, and Citrus Springs Elementary School, and I care about each, and every child I transport even the little darlings I have to frequently write disciplinary referrals on. The mere thought of just witnessing one of the kids from my bus getting seriously injured on the bus, or at a bus stop literally scares me. Some might say that I care more than the parameters of my job requires. I could not disagree with that more. For it is this level of caring that instills the fear that keeps me on guard, and ever vigilant in my goal to make every trip as safe as I can for all the children that ride my bus.
Like most bus drivers, I do my job knowing full well that I am never more than a heartbeat, or distraction away from catastrophe. Regardless of my training, my ability, or how much I care for the children that ride my bus, I still need the help of everyone to prevent my worst nightmare, and that is having too kneel down beside the broken body of a child who once affectionately, or respectively called me “Mr. Kim.”