20 Ways to Bolster School Bus Safety

These school bus safety tips can help your school keep students safe.

14. Driver Escort Ensures Safety

School bus passengers are most vulnerable when they’re outside of the vehicle – particularly when they need to cross the street. In California, school bus drivers are required to escort children across the street to ensure their safety.

State pupil transportation director John Green says that there has not been a documented case of a student in California being killed while being escorted across the street by a bus driver.

The state requirement, which has been in place since the 1950s, is for pre-K through eighth-grade students, but Green says that most school districts also make it a policy for high school students.

Here’s how the procedure works: When the bus driver arrives at a stop where a student must cross, the driver shuts down the bus, sets the brake and takes the key – while leaving the red lights flashing. The driver then takes a hand-held stop sign – the same type that school crossing guards use – and walks with it to the center of the road. When the driver establishes that it’s safe to cross, he or she signals the student to do so.

“It’s a fairly simple procedure,” Green says. “It’s about adding the adult human element – getting the driver out there in the street.”

Ron Kinney, a school transportation consultant and former California state director, also recommends the escort procedure. He reminds drivers to “be sure to check traffic in both directions before entering the roadway. Cross the pupils only when it is safe to do so.”

15. Maintain Driver Accountability

Ron Love, state pupil transportation director for Delaware, offers this advice for school bus drivers: “Drive as you would if your supervisor, a law enforcement officer or parent was on board.”

Along those lines, Love says that drivers should communicate road or bus stop condition changes and suspicious activities to supervisors.

16. Give Tips, Avoid Complacency

Giving school bus drivers a quick tip over the two-way radio every morning is a good way to keep safety on their minds.

“Pick a time that all the buses can hear your message,” says Donald Sexstone, customer service manager for Durham School Services in Rochester, N.Y.

Sexstone pulls many of his daily messages from a school bus safety handbook or state regulations. An example: “Keep your eyes continually moving. Scan for hazards all around your bus – in front, to the sides and behind.”

Venus Hart, transportation director at Lake County School District in Leadville, Colo., stresses the importance of
constantly thinking about safety.

“There are some situations that you can’t be prepared for, but if you have the training and follow logical steps – judgment calls – everything should work out,” Hart says.

Maryland state pupil transportation director Leon Langley says that “becoming complacent is a recipe for disaster.” He offers this quote from recently deceased coaching great John Wooden:

“It is what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

17. Address Bullying

While the school bus industry tends to gauge its safety record by fatalities, many parents look at it another way. This was shown in a North Carolina State University study of parents’ perceptions of school bus transportation.

“Not surprisingly, parents don’t think of safety in terms of fatalities,” North Carolina state pupil transportation director Derek Graham says, referring to the survey results. “Rather, they think in terms of whether or not their child is safe – protected – from things that are unsafe. And at the top of the list is bullying.”

The study found that many parents choose the family car over the school bus because they feel that their child is not well protected from other kids on the bus.

“I don’t pretend to have a magic answer to this problem, but the first step is recognizing that this is a big deal to students and parents,” Graham says. “It needs to be more than a workshop topic for school bus drivers or supervisors; it somehow needs to be entrenched in our overall approach to providing safe transportation for students.”


18. Check the Bus for Students

There are many approaches to preventing children from being left on school buses.

Kris Pavolich, transportation manager at Geminus Head Start XXI in Merrillville, Ind., implemented a policy to provide double checks: Children have to be signed on and off the bus by parents, teachers must sign off upon receiving the children, and drivers have to know exactly how many teachers will be delivering children back to the bus at the end of the day.

At Virginia Beach City Public Schools, Pace says that most buses are equipped with child-check reminder systems, but for those that aren’t, drivers are reminded to “walk the bus” during the morning safety announcements. Additionally, the first violation of the child-check policy is a termination offense, he says.

Transportation Supervisor Vicky Guy of Bullhead City (Ariz.) Elementary School District #15 uses a magnetic checkmark sign.

“The driver will walk to the rear of the bus and place the sign in the window,” she explains. “We have a person walk behind all buses. If a sign is not visible, the bus will be checked for children.”

19. Enhance Driver Visibility With Vests

To boost safety in school bus lots, some operations require employees to wear reflective safety vests. First Student, the largest school bus contractor in North America, is one of them. Lake Shore Central School District in Angola, N.Y., recently implemented a vest policy after a fatal accident.

In December 2007, Lake Shore bus driver Brenda Chiapetta was walking across the lot to her bus just after 6 a.m. Besides the darkness, there was a driving rain. At the same time, a mechanic was driving a bus into the shop for his first service of the day. The bus struck Chiapetta, killing her instantly.

“This was a traumatic thing for our department and for our school community,” Transportation Supervisor Michael Dallessandro says. In the aftermath, there were many safety-related suggestions “coming at us from all angles, and we did not want to make any knee-jerk reactions.”

This year, the district decided to require that drivers and monitors wear reflective safety vests whenever they are on the clock.

“It’s amazing how well you can see our staff members now in all types of light and weather conditions,” Dallessandro says.

20. Offer Training Early, Evacuation Drills Often

Offering school bus evacuation training for students is essential, particularly at the elementary level. Segal of Walled Lake (Mich.) Consolidated School District recommends practicing three bus evacuations annually with elementary students and establishing a district safety program for the younger elementary students.

“We use puppets and skits with Buster the Bus and go to each elementary in the early fall and do a presentation for grades K-3 in conjunction with our first bus evacuation of the year,” Segal says. “Drivers create it and act in it – it’s very well received by the kids and the staff.”

Maggie Graff, transportation director for Ridgway (Colo.) School District R-2, also encourages beginning a training program with elementary students as soon as possible once the school year begins.

“The kids are ready to do something physical since they have not been required to sit still all summer,” she says.

Also, providing a photo of the driver for each route will help students who are new to the district, Graff says.

Adds Illinois state pupil transportation director Cinda Meneghetti: “We have new students every year, and we need to make sure they receive the safety training. … Plus, we need to keep reiterating it to all students annually so everyone knows what to do in an emergency and how to stay safe.”

You can find even more school bus safety tips from the Department of Transportation here.

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