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October 21, 2009  |   Comments (7)   |   Post a comment

Approaches to Protect Students in Loading Zones

Recent student fatalities highlight the importance of maximizing safety in and around this area at schools. Pupil transportation industry professionals offer many effective ways to do so, from separating groups of traffic to implementing detailed policies for bus drivers to providing training for students. Communicating with school staff and parents is essential.

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Pictured is the bus loop at Highland Elementary School in Derby, N.Y. Motorists are prohibited from entering the bus loops at all of Lake ShoreCentral School District’s elementary schools to help prevent students from being injured.

Pictured is the bus loop at Highland Elementary School in Derby, N.Y. Motorists are prohibited from entering the bus loops at all of Lake Shore

Central School District’s elementary schools to help prevent students from being injured.

Data published by the Kansas State Department of Education indicate that there have been several student fatalities in bus loading and unloading zones at schools in recent years.

According to the latest National School Bus Loading & Unloading Survey, from 2004 to 2007, one fatality occurred while students were unloading from buses in the morning, and one fatality occurred while students were boarding buses in the afternoon.

This year, SCHOOL BUS FLEET has learned of two fatal bus drop-off accidents at schools. In January, pre-kindergartner Jameer Woodley was crossing his school's parking lot in Courtland, Va., after disembarking his bus when he was struck by another bus. The Southampton County Sheriff's Office investigated the accident.

The second bus had completed its unloading, and the driver received a signal that the area was clear. The driver pulled the bus out of its parking space and made a right turn into the travel lane of the parking lot. Woodley was crossing the travel lane when he was struck by the bus.

The following month, fourth-grader Christopher Beltz left his bus in the parking lot at Spring Mill Elementary School in Indianapolis' Washington Township. A lieutenant for the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department said in a news conference that when Beltz ran out of his bus, he darted between a row of cars parked between where he was dropped off and the school building. There was also a bus there that had just dropped off another student at the curb. As that bus was leaving, Beltz ran in front of it.

These fatalities show that industry officials must remain vigilant and employ every means at their disposal to maintain student safety in bus loading zones to prevent accidents.

"I think the event in Washington Township serves as a reminder that just because you've done your process for umpteen years, it deserves evaluation for the potential of improvement," says Pete Baxter, school transportation director at the Indiana Department of Education (DOE).

Southampton County Public Schools (SCPS) and Metropolitan School District of Washington Township (MSDWT) officials recognized this in the wake of the accidents on their school campuses this year and have changed their loading zone policies.

Pupil transportation industry professionals have numerous suggestions for how to maximize student safety in loading zones, and many practices have been implemented at operations around the country.

Districts enforce preventive measures

Following the accident in Courtland, Va., SCPS changed its bus unloading procedure. Superintendent Charles Turner wrote in a letter to parents that students would be "unloaded directly in front of the entryway at the curb during the morning, one bus at a time."

MSDWT took the fatality at their elementary school very seriously as well. "I'll never get over it," Superintendent James Mervilde says. "We need to do everything we can to make sure this never happens again."

The district's preventive measures are comprehensive. A safety task force that includes transportation officials, school administrators, traffic experts and educators was formed to evaluate transportation practices and associated traffic issues at each school.

Each school now has a schematic drawing created by the task force that displays an approved traffic flow for morning drop-off and afternoon pickup by buses and cars. School maps and the schematics are distributed to the bus drivers and parents and posted on the schools' Websites.

Traffic supervision has also improved. At least one trained security officer is required to be on duty at each school to direct traffic during morning drop-off and afternoon pick-up. In conjunction, more school staff members are assigned outside during arrival and departure times to ensure safety and parent compliance with revised procedures.

To notify parents of the revised procedures, Mervilde taped a back-to-school message asking parents to listen to school officials in regard to where they are allowed to park their cars.

"We have some new principles," he adds. "When kids are moving, the buses can't be moving, and when the drivers are at their stops, they must turn off their buses." The drivers are also required to drop off kids at the curb, preventing them from walking across lanes of traffic.

In addition, MSDWT hired CSO Architects to conduct a district-wide evaluation of the school buildings, paying particular attention to traffic flow by school buses and cars. Upon completion, the company submitted proposal projects to improve safety and traffic flow at all of the schools. Spring Mill Elementary now has concrete barricades that define a crosswalk from a guest parking lot to a sidewalk on the north side of the building. Moreover, all buses must park on the front side of the school, and cars are restricted to a side parking lot.

Analyzing and separating traffic is encouraged

Pupil transportation professionals agree that analyzing the traffic flow in and around loading zones and separating school buses from other types of traffic are excellent ways to prevent loading zone fatalities.

"Take a step back and look at the design of the loading zone," says Kathy Furneaux, executive director of Syracuse, N.Y.-based Pupil Transportation Safety Institute. "When you have a big melting pot of traffic, it really becomes problematic because of the blind spots around a bus."

Furneaux says separating traffic to increase safety does not always involve a major overhaul. She was recently asked by officials at a school in Liberty, N.Y., to evaluate their loading zone because they were having problems with traffic.

"It was as simple as moving a section of a parking lot over and putting in another lane," Furneaux reveals.

Ted Finlayson-Schueler, president of Safety Rules!, in Syracuse, N.Y., says that one of the best ways to analyze loading zones is to start before the buses arrive and continue until all stragglers have left. He recommends videotaping the process from a location where the entire area can be seen (the school rooftop, for instance) so that each vehicle's movement can be studied.

He also suggests getting a map of the school property and noting all of its entrances as well as parking lot/street entrances and identifying where each group (school buses, parents in their personal vehicles, school staff, students who walk to school, etc.) is currently accessing the building and its surrounding area.

Like Furneaux, Finlayson-Schueler encourages separating each class of traffic. This can be accomplished with space or time. "If parents are not let onto the school grounds in the afternoon until the buses have left, you have two loading zones separated by time instead of one that is dangerous and congested," Finlayson-Schueler explains. "In the same way, driving staff and students can be held in their parking lots until the buses are released, creating space for the buses to leave without having to share the roadway."

Schematics, like this one for Spring Mill Elementary, that display approved traffic flow for buses and cars have been created for all schools within the Metropolitan School District of Washington Township in Indianapolis to increase safety.

Finlayson-Schueler notes that special attention should be given to students who walk to school. "Walkers need to have clear direction about how to access and leave the school, and careful consideration should be given to their ability to do that without having to cross traffic while coming to or leaving the school. If walkers are held in the school until the buses leave, it can significantly reduce congestion," he says.

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(Continued from comment below): Certainly it can be agreed that by high school age a child ought to know better, but is that a reasonable expectation in the event children ignoring safe crossing directions are not immediately removed from riding the buses until fully resolved? Defiance from children is only part of the problem. The bigger issue is the adults (including parents) failing to do what they are supposed to be doing to help the bus drivers keep kids safe. Too many children die more so from indifference and failures to enforce than from a so-called tragedy. Violate safe crossing practices long enough and the result ought to be obvious. Free Death at the school bus stop booklet (Thread Post #4): http://www.schoolbusfleet.com/forum/topic.asp?

jkraemer    |    Jan 05, 2011 01:29 PM

Motion sensors at the front and perhaps at least on the door side of the bus can be an excellent help. Defining responsibility that is not so exclusive to the bus driver would save more lives. And there are plenty of districts that do define both child and parent responsibilities but get very little press. California requires the bus driver secure the bus and cross students, a frightening thought in other states where the drivers know the kids are out-of-control on their buses. (What excuse is there to allow any out-of-control child ride any school bus in any state?) In Regina, Canada the crossing sign and lights are prohibited in the city. Riders depart and walk to the nearest intersection to cross after the bus is gone providing students clear visibility in all directions. Not only can these devices unreasonably interfere with traffic, but according to Sgt. Koroluk, "These devices could give the students a false sense of security and therefore not take normal precautions to avoid motorists who do not obey them for one reason or another." Strict enforcement is often missing at the bus stop, kids refusing to make driver eye contact, crossing too close to the bus, running, horseplay in the road, running back to the bus, and on and on. When a tragedy does occur the usual is plenty of expressed sorrow about the death and a claim the buses are safe. In December of 2009 (PINELLAS COUNTY, FL) high school student Nora Hernandez-Huapilla was late one too many times to her bus stop and died running across the road in the dark, rainy weather and against the cross walk light when hit by a car. Soon after Nora's death school authorities were out in force instructing students how to cross the road - promptly told by students to f-off. Certainly it can be agreed that by high school age a child ought to know better, but is that a reasonable expectation in the event children ignoring safe crossing directions are not immediately removed from riding the buses until fully resolved? De

jkraemer    |    Jan 05, 2011 01:26 PM

This is all well in reguards to regular ed buses (full size buses) in school bus loops. How about the special needs buses that are forced to load and unload their students in the teacher parking lots along with the parent drop off's. Seems some schools don't like to have "special needs buses" associated with their schools. To add insult to injury, are told not to use their loading and unloading lights to keep the flow of traffic going. As a school bus driver of nearly 30 years, I run my lights no matter where I am loading or unloading and for the entire duration of tie-downs for a wheelchair or securing a student in an approved child restraint system. I hear other drivers calling over the two way radio to rudely tell another driver to turn their loading and unloading lights off so that they can pass. The job of looking out for our students fall upon the school bus driver. The driver has the choice to move the bus or look to make sure the area is clear for the bus to manuver.

Annette    |    Sep 25, 2010 04:53 PM

What is so very sad is that school attroneys have to deal with an issue after the fact. You will get very limited information at this point on the back ground and behind the scenes circumstances that led up to fatalities. There are just too many liabilities to cover now. Let us just look at the bare facts. ALL school bus drivers are provided training through the State of Indiana so they can obtain their School Bus Certification card. So with that being said, the bus driver knows proper safety precautions to be followed while loading and or unloading any student. The decision is ALWAYS the driver's when to load and unload. As a school bus driver for eight years with special needs students, a sub-school bus driver, and now school bus trainer, the driver is the one openning and closing the entrance door to the school bus. The people sitting behind a desk somewhere do not make that choice exactly when you load and unload in any given situation. You, the driver makes that choice based upon the safety training you have had prior to obtaining your CDL license and State Certificate to operate a school bus. That is the bottom line bare facts. Now lets look at this opinion I have. Again, the driver makes the ultimate decision to load and unload students. The driver does not get to decide exactly where on school property to load and unload, normally. The School Board has specific approved loading and unloading areas. The drivers are NOT to be loading or unloading anywhere else. In order to make such a change the driver should document a clear report, in writing, to the supervisor, director, and school Superintendent. You can state that this report is either a blind cc or a designated cc letter report. This means, with a cc letter you state at the bottom exactly who else is receiving this very same photo copied letter. In a blind cc letter you put no names at the bottom, just that there are others receiving this letter. This documentation does two things; it shows that the

Dan Luttrell    |    Apr 22, 2010 05:13 AM

Back in the early to mid 1980's when I first started working as a sub-school bus driver for the County, I noticed one thing that stuck out most at every school I traveled to - "there was no real designated traffic patterns." What I mean is that all had two way traffic everywhere. I submitted a report to my Director, Mr. Allen, at that time. He had me explain to him several of the school's and their specific roadway issues. He said he had never thought about these issues since no one ever complained that there was a problem before. He told me these were great ideas and he would take those before the School Board for input. It wasn't long after that until new signs were put up and building administrators were out on the parking lots and side walks directing traffic. The School Board changed all traffic patterns to "one-way" traffic flows. Several schools had new bus lane drive way designated pick-up and drop-off areas. I drove as a permanent special needs driver for eight years. I have worked in the transportation department a total of 26 to 27 years now. My first safety class for becoming certified as a school bus driver was conducted by Mr. Baxter, who now is at our State House, as State level Director. I pointed out the things I noticed due to what I was taught in the safety classes. Pay attention to safety training people. You can make a difference and save lives. That is a win win situation for all involved. There were other safety issues down through my years I always pointed out, sometimes I knew the person across the table did not want to hear about a few specific ones. I spoke up anyway due to the lives at stake. I still have my job and things were addressed even though issues were difficult to say the least. Do not just assume someone else should already be doing something about a safety issue. YOU are part of the EYES ON THE GROUND and BEHIND THE STEERING WHEEL. Someone sitting behind a desk somewhere can not possibly see what you do day in and day out. "I

Daniel Luttrell    |    Apr 21, 2010 05:15 AM

I work in school transporation and understand that dangerous traffic conditions around schools exist in epedemic levels across this country. My question is why must a student die before any action is taken to correct an individual hazardous situation? Most of these problem areas don't need a study commission just a little common sense.

Roy W    |    Apr 14, 2010 05:36 AM

I know that there has been available for over 20 yrs,of a system that alerts the driver and student that they are in the danger zone. All the mirrors and the best training in the world can not & has not prevented these accident! It's time to put an advance pedestrian warning system in the National Standards!

April Ford    |    Dec 21, 2009 09:09 AM

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