How To Be Smart Around Schoolbuses

Many people have a hard time figuring out school buses, so I'm going to give you a few tips to help you drive smart when there's a school bus around.

As a school bus driver, I am responsible for the safety and transportation of school children from their school to their parents. The school bus is considered an extension of the classroom and the care and control of each child is transferred from the teacher to the bus driver to the parent.

School buses are, statistically, the safest mode of transport on the road. They're built like tanks for a reason: very small children, sometimes as young as 3 years old, are riding on it. When it comes to a traffic collision with a school bus, chances are that it's going to hurt the other vehicle a lot more than anybody on the bus.

Which is why it baffles me when some drivers act like complete idiots around these big yellow steel vehicles. Here's a breakdown of what to do, and what NOT to do, when you're near a school bus.

This should be a no-brainer but I've called in three stop-sign runners in only one month. When that stop sign deploys and the lights are flashing, all vehicles MUST stop, in both directions (unless there is a concrete median between the different directions). This is non-negotiable from the point of the law and the bus driver WILL see the runner's license plate and WILL report it immediately using that handy radio we all have right in front of us.

The police WILL immediately issue a traffic violation of between $400 and $2,000 plus 5 demerit points. If this is a repeat offense they will go to the driver's home and arrest them.

You see, many of my students and their parents need to cross the road. They can't see around the front of the bus. I watch every vehicle in my mirror and when I see they've all stopped I give the students waiting to cross the thumbs up to let them know it's safe to go. Sometimes, however, an impatient driver stopped behind me will suddenly pull out and rev their engine and speed past.

Last week the father of a young boy was almost hit this way (I got the license and make/model of the vehicle and called it in).

The average amount of time a school bus is stopped is between 45 seconds and 1 minute. If you hit a kid, you will go to prison. Some people would kill a child and go to prison to save 45 seconds. 

Those buses are 32 feet long and have 8 feet of tail beyond the last axle. That means a large tail swing whenever the bus turns, which means they're not very maneuverable. All around schools, even along a couple of side streets leading to the school, designated "NO STOPPING" zones have been set up to allow buses to get in and out to accomplish their primary job: getting kids to and from school.

For some reason, a lot of people think that parking in front of a "NO STOPPING" sign in a "SCHOOL BUS LOADING" is okay, because they're special, or they have a special circumstance. Not really.

As a bus driver, I will lean on that horn until your car moves. If it won't move, I'll radio police and they'll make you move it.

Two weeks ago there was a car parked just where buses needed to turn onto the street where the school was. Not a single bus could get past. The driver was nowhere around. Police came and towed the car.

Really you shouldn't be tailgating anybody but I get it: some people are dumb as bricks, so here's a word of caution for those who enjoy riding the bumper of a school bus: I weigh 15 tonnes and I can't see you. 

That's right. The first four to five feet directly behind the school bus is a HUGE blind spot. Some idiots like to coast along in that zone, and I only notice them if I happen to see their shadow in my side mirrors.

If I need to stop suddenly, you're going to be in a world of hurt and I probably won't even feel the bump!

This also applies to cutting off a school bus and then stopping, just to get in front of it. You see, at 15 tonnes and 32 feet, school buses don't stop suddenly. They need a fair amount of distance to come to a complete stop and the driver, who spent months training and has hundreds of hours experience behind the wheel, is quickly calculating the closing distance to the stop location and reducing speed.

If a small car suddenly zips into that space and slams on the brakes, it's going to end badly for the small car.

In my jurisdiction, which is the province of Ontario, it is legislated by the Highway Traffic Act that all school buses stop at every railroad crossing, secure the bus (put the parking brake on), and open the door to listen for trains.

Honking at me and swearing and giving me the finger won't speed me up because I'm not about to lose my bus driving job just to please you. I HAVE to stop. It's the law. It's also for the safety of the kids.

The school bus routes are set by the local school boards, and we have to follow them. If there's a bus that is in your way every morning, then it's you who needs to find a new route, because we can't.

Giving your finger to a school bus or yelling obscenities at it is really classy because that bus is probably full of little kids. It's also dumb because the bus driver isn't going to say "Oh, that woman parked in the school bus loading zone is really angry. Maybe I'll just skip dropping these kids off at school today."

This may have seemed like I'm attacking everyone driving on the roads, and I'm not. There are many good drivers who understand the rules of the road and the special circumstances large vehicles such as school buses require. I'm always grateful when people stop for my stop sign and the kids get home safely. Nevertheless, there are enough idiots out there to warrant the 6 points above. For them, I hope they get to read this post as well!


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