Districts stress bus safety—the rest is up to us
The Utah State Office of Education (USOE) and our local school districts go to exceptional lengths to make sure school buses and school bus drivers are safe.
The rest is up to us as drivers and parents.
The efforts of the school system start at the top. Every year before school starts, the USOE puts on a two-and-a-half day training for the school bus coordinators in Utah’s 41 school districts. The goal is to prepare them to train the drivers in their local districts.
Considering that school bus driver is a part-time job with no benefits, the qualifications and training requirements are pretty stringent.
Candidates must first qualify for a Utah commercial driver’s license. Then they have to take 7-8 hours of classroom training and 12 hours of observed training behind the wheel of a bus to become certified as school bus drivers.
Every five years, school bus drivers must recertify by completing the same requirements all over again.
Before school each year, local districts put all drivers through another 8 hours of training, and at mid year, 6 more hours. And all drivers are subject to random drug testing.
Ralph Squire, who besides being assistant superintendent, is the school bus coordinator in the South Sanpete School District, says lots of people inquire about driving school buses but only about one in 10 is willing to go through the process to become a driver.
But even if drivers are qualified, trained and monitored, they don’t have control of everything that happens outside their buses. That’s were we come in.
As a school bus approaches a stop, the driver turns on flashing yellow lights. That makes the area around the bus a school zone with a speed limit of 20 miles per hour.
As soon as the driver opens the door of the bus, alternating red lights go on at the front and rear of the bus and stop arms come out from the side. That means traffic in all directions must stop in place, just as if a crossing guard or stop light were present.
Every driver should know that. But many don’t stop. Officials have estimated there are 1,500 stop-arm violations per year in Utah.
Another scary problem is ATVs driving along borrow pits on our rural roads. Drivers may not see stop arms because those may be on the other side of the bus. But if red lights are flashing, four-wheelers need to stop before reaching the bus.
The school bus coordinator in North Sanpete tells the story of one of his drivers grabbing a child by the backpack and pulling him back into the bus just as an ATV went whizzing past.
Finally, Squire emphasizes, rushing to catch the school bus, especially in the morning, can be a dangerous thing.
In the winter, a student might slip and fall in the road or even in front of the bus. Depending on the child’s position, it might be impossible for drivers of cars or the school bus driver to see him or her, and the child could be vulnerable to getting run over.
Sometimes, because a child is late, the parent drives him or her to the bus stop, drives through the stop arm, and lets the child off right at the front of the bus. The child runs in front of the bus to get to the door. If timing is wrong, the child might bolt in front of the bus just as it starts pulling forward.
Squire advises families to make sure children are standing at the bus stop 5 minutes before the bus pulls up so they can join their friends in filing in an orderly line into the bus. If your child won’t be able to make it to the stop before the bus does, drive him or her to school yourself.
Although there have been some close calls, Sanpete County has made it for many years without a school bus accident. Let’s keep it that way.