10 Ways to Bolster School Bus Safety

Pupil transportation officials share tips on bus stop safety, pre-trip inspections, emergency communications and more.

1. Don’t excuse drivers for breaking rules
Students should not be the only ones who are disciplined if they disobey policies. This is the consensus among the employees at Walled Lake (Mich.) Consolidated School District’s transportation department.

“When we had to terminate a driver for texting, talking on a cell phone and eating with kids on the bus, the word spread pretty quickly,”  Transportation Supervisor Jill Segal explains. “Policies should be enforced. If drivers are breaking the rules, write them up.”

2. Prepare for emergency communications
For situations like emergencies and inclement weather, being able to communicate quickly and efficiently is essential.

Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District in Middleton, Wis., uses the AlertNow system to reach parents and staff. With a few steps, and usually in less than two minutes, the district can send out mass notifications.

“Although we thankfully haven’t had to use it for a true emergency,  such as a severe bus accident with injuries or fatalities, it is capable of notifying parents at home and on cell phones if one were to happen,”  says Jeff Walker, who served as transportation services manager for the Middleton district until moving to Litchfield Elementary School District #79 in Litchfield Park, Ariz., this summer.

The AlertNow system can quickly provide information on what happened,  where students are being transported if injured, where parents can reunite with their children, etc.

“We have used it for situations where a bus has broken down or gotten stuck in traffic and is running more than 15 minutes late, so that parents waiting at the bus stop are not stampeding our dispatch center with phone calls,” Walker says.

The Middleton district also uses the system for driver notifications,  such as weather-delayed starts, school cancellations and in-service training reminders.

“Overall, it has worked out extremely well for us and is worth the investment,” Walker says.

3. Team up for safe bus stops
The My Brother’s Keeper program was developed after a tragedy in our school district [Jones County Schools] in December 2009. The district felt that we needed to do more to ensure that kids cross the street safely at the bus stop.

So we put together a program encouraging children to hold hands and cross the street as a unit as opposed to individually. Oftentimes, an impatient driver may see one child cross and assume they can pass the bus, resulting in unsafe situations for children.

We also started a second safety program called Meet Me at the Bus Stop. This was designed to encourage parents of younger riders to stand with them and to meet children at the bus stops. We feel that adult supervision will enhance the safety of these stops.

The program is set up as an incentive program, where the children receive stickers, bracelets and little prizes from the bus driver weekly when parents participate.
   – Submitted by Terry Graham, transportation director, Jones County Schools, Laurel, Miss.

4. Stress consistent inspections
John Clements,  director of transportation at Kings Canyon Unified School District in Reedley, Calif., emphasizes the importance of performing a daily pre-trip inspection on every school bus prior to operation. He notes that shortcuts in inspections or failure to complete a brake inspection,  for example, can lead to preventable accidents.

“As you start down a steep grade, that is not the time to be thinking, ‘I should have checked my air brake system today!’” Clements says. “That inspection needs to occur prior to leaving the yard.”

5. Maximizing vision with mirrors
Ron Kinney, a school transportation consultant and former California state director,  recommends school bus mirror modifications to enhance the safety of students outside the bus during loading and unloading.

On Type C and D school buses, Kinney suggests replacing the standard 7-inch-by-16-inch mirror with a 7-inch-by-20-inch right-side flat (also known as “West Coast”) mirror.

“Do not forget to look in front and behind the mirrors,” says Kinney,  whose consulting firm is QET Management Services. “Lean forward and backward to see around the mirror blind spots.”

On Type D school buses, Kinney recommends positioning the left-side flat mirror so that the driver has a clear view over the top of the mirror. Again, the driver should lean forward and backward to see around blind spots.

6. Updating safety policies
The transportation department at Murfreesboro (Tenn.) City Schools recently compiled a list of safety procedures based on new requirements issued by the state,  Transportation and Safety Supervisor Debra Savely reports.

Buses are labeled with animal magnets as well as numbers to help students and parents remember their bus assignments. Drivers and assistants receive bus journals to write down important information.

Each bus has its number painted on the roof for identification in case of emergency.

Buses are also equipped with red, 4-by-6-inch LED lights in the middle of the back door.

“When the bus stops, the light flashes,” Savely says. “Since installing these lights two years ago, we haven’t been hit from behind.”

Drivers keep seating charts and demographic rosters on the bus, and children’s names are posted above their seats. Drivers and assistants on special-ed buses must develop evacuation plans that include which children will be evacuated first, which ones may be “runners” and require additional help, etc. This information is recorded on the child’s nametag above the seat.

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