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The City Journals

What the school bus driver wants you to know to keep your kids safe

Oct 02, 2019 01:56PM ● By Jet Burnham

What parents don’t know about bus safety can put their children in danger. (Jet Burnham/City Journals)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

As the mother of seven children ages 3 to 23, West Jordan resident Ruth Shaw has spent at a lot of time watching her kids get on and off the school bus. She thought she knew how to keep them safe. However, when she was trained as a school bus driver, she was surprised by how much she didn’t know.

“I learned a lot of the procedures, and then I watched my kids and realized how unsafe they were being,” Shaw said. “I think parents are the best advocates for keeping their kids safe.”

For Bus Safety month this October, Shaw is sharing what she has learned to help other parents keep their kids safe.

Getting on the bus:

“I wish that I would have known that kids should never start walking up to the bus until the driver opens the door. That gives the driver a chance to make sure that all the cars are stopping that should stop and that no one's going to buzz past him.”

On the bus:

“While on the bus, kids like to try and stand up or turn around sideways. One time, I had a kid that actually crawled between the back seat and the back-window emergency exit.”

“My kids want to know the why about everything. I find it’s best to explain the reason behind rules. I tell the kids there's a reason why you should sit flat on your butt and face forward—because you don't have seatbelts in the bus. So, if there's an accident, that's what keeps you safe.” 

Getting off the bus:

“Kids need to walk out to the sidewalk or 10 feet away from the bus. And then, if they need to cross in front of the bus, they should walk about 10 feet in front of the bus. Then, they walk halfway across the street—to the edge of the bus—to stop and wait for the bus driver to check all the mirrors, make sure there's no traffic coming and then give them the OK sign.”

Never seen the OK sign? It’s an index finger pointing in the direction it is safe to walk.

Dangers around a stopped bus:

“I learned how dangerous it is for kids to be too close to the wheels. We have mirrors in front so that we can see what's in front of the bus. But kids are small, and they're quick. If a child dropped something under the bus and decided to go grab it, that could be potentially fatal.”

Shaw said care must be taken even around parked buses or before school lets out, when a driver might not be on alert for kids who are where they’re not expected to be.

Consistent message:

Shaw believes when everyone knows the procedures, kids won’t get competing instructions from parents and bus drivers. Conflicting information puts children at risk and can be a factor in a fatal accident.

“Accidents happen. And you know, a child just doesn't stand a chance against a huge bus.”

What do the flashing yellow lights mean?

“Yellow flashing lights is a warning. Be careful. That's what drivers will do a couple hundred feet before their stop to help people be aware that they are going to be stopping soon.” She said to treat it like a yellow light in an intersection and prepare to stop.

Should I always stop for the flashing red stop sign?

Flashing red lights or stop sign (called a stop arm) extended from a bus means stop—most of the time. But there are different rules depending on what kind of road you are on.

If the road has a physical barrier dividing traffic or if it has two or more lanes going each way plus a turn lane, the bus will drop kids off on both sides of street separately so none should be crossing the street.

“If there's a bus stopped on Redwood Road (or similar road), all the traffic going the same direction as the bus needs to stop. All the traffic going the opposite direction is supposed to slow down to 20 mph as if it were a school zone.”

On smaller roads, such as 4000 West, all traffic in both directions must stop and wait until the stop arm is folded in before proceeding.

Shaw believes when parents, children and drivers all know, understand and follow the rules, accidents can be prevented.

What is the school’s role in bus safety?

Paul Bergera, director of transportation for Jordan District, said safety training is required for drivers annually, and students are taught bus safety during assemblies during the first few weeks of the school year. A new bus safety video was released last month and can be found on jordandistrict.org.

“Bus safety is something that we all take very seriously,” Bergera said. “We all are trying to get as much information out to our communities as we can on how to be safer drivers and to look out for school buses. They're pretty hard to miss. They're big and yellow. Just know that when you're driving around a school bus, it’s potentially going to make a stop so be aware.” 

Just like kids, parents need a reminder of the reason for the rules.

“Everybody's in a hurry; everybody wants to get from point A to point B,” Bergera said. “But we just really have to think about the repercussions of what would happen if a student was hit or if a student was injured.”

PTA organizations also help educate families during Safety Week, commonly known as Green Ribbon Week.

National Safety Week is Oct. 21–25.

“We recognize it's a week, but we want people to be cognizant of bus safety year-round,” Bergera said. “With the exception of a few months during the summer, it's a big part of our lives, especially in our morning and afternoon traffic.”