For pupil transportation officials, Finlayson-Schueler says communication with parents entails ensuring that signs and clear pavement markings are present at school sites in order for them to know where they should drop off or pick up their children. "Make sure that a person who had never come to the school before would know where to drive and park," he says.
If changes to school sites are in the works, Finlayson-Schueler recommends sending a notice home with students, putting articles in the district newsletter or talking to the local media about doing a story on the changes before they are implemented.
"On the day that changes are implemented, stand out there and distribute notices to parents and provide answers to questions they may have," he adds.
Furthermore, Dallessandro notes that efforts to communicate with parents, as well as all efforts to maximize student safety in and around bus loading and unloading zones must be continuous.
"Managing loading and unloading zones is not a situation where you can post some signs, set up cones and send out a letter and be done with it," he says. "I think people by nature want to park as close as they can to things, especially during inclement weather, so you have to work year-round in enforcing policies and educating people."
A school bus driver's perspective
Michele Kuhne, a school bus driver for Greater Johnstown (N.Y.) School District, is among the industry professionals who believe that separating school bus loading zones from parent pickup and drop-off areas and student parking lots is a key way to increase student safety.
"We have a couple of schools where, to get to the parent parking lot, the parents drive through the bus loading zone," Kuhne reveals. "If the area was rearranged so that the parents parked on the other side of the school, it would remove all of our problems."
Kuhne also feels it is important for schools, when designing loading zones, to consider the length of a school bus and how much room is needed for a driver to turn and maneuver. She says the larger the zone is, the better it is for bus drivers.
To support her point, Kuhne relays a problem she faced while transporting a student with special needs. "The bus loop for the school where the student needed to be dropped off was a half-circle. There was no way I could pull up to the curb to engage the wheelchair lift without backing up, but I couldn't back up because it's illegal in New York state," she says.
(Kuhne notes that a wheelchair lift does not operate properly if the bus is far away from the curb.)
She also advocates working with outside agencies to bolster safety around schools. Her district's transportation department occasionally conducts Operation Safe Stop. Police officers follow the department's buses and issue tickets to motorists who illegally pass the buses.
"When it's publicized how many tickets they issued, it helps educate the public, which is what we're all about - we need motorists to obey the law," Kuhne says.
"Safe zones" bolster safety near schools
Officers at the Odessa (Texas) Police Department designate "safe zones" weekly throughout the city to enhance safety among motorists and the public.
Safe zones are areas in which traffic enforcement is increased to gain voluntary compliance with traffic laws. Police officers work these areas singly or in groups, paying close attention for red light, stop sign, speeding and other moving violations.
The areas include crosswalks, school zones and school buses while students are loading and unloading.
"The officers talk to the motorists they see making violations and let them know that they've had an infraction," Cpl. Danny Yeager explains. "For example, even if the bus' lights aren't flashing, there could be kids who dart out in front of the buses."
Yeager says the officers select the areas where the zones will be designated based on calls from people complaining about traffic congestion, or wherever they notice a potential for problems when they are on patrol.
Safe zones are announced the week prior to enforcement action being taken, and the officers strive to provide as much enforcement as possible each week.
One week they may patrol the zones for five or six hours; another week they may patrol for one hour - it depends on the amount of personnel available.
The safe zones program is not restricted to Odessa. Yeager says the department works with neighboring police departments to establish an intercity effort.
Bus driver training tools
Continuous training to sharpen bus drivers' skills will enhance student safety in loading zones. Larry Bluthardt of the Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE) emphasizes the value of mirror training.
The KSDE utilizes the resources of Dick Fischer, president of Trans-Consult. Bluthardt says Fischer comes in every summer to head a 40-hour class for driver trainers. One of its biggest components is mirror adjustment - specifically, how to properly adjust and use bus mirrors. "It's an excellent and invaluable program," he says.
Bluthardt also recommends a video by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety titled "Children in Traffic." "It throws you into a child's world when he or she goes in a street," he explains. "Their peripheral vision is not strong until they're 11 or 12 years old. Their hearing is very acute, but they can't decipher at which direction they hear noises."
Pedal misapplication contributes to loading zone accident
In January 2007, a Pennsbury School District driver's bus injured 20 students when it accelerated in a Falls Township, Pa., high school's loading zone and crashed into a retaining wall.
In its investigation of the accident, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determined that the probable cause was pedal misapplication by the driver. Pedal misapplication occurs when a driver depresses the accelerator instead of, or in addition to, the brake pedal.
A report synopsis indicates that the agency also believes that the driver's unfamiliarity with the bus contributed to the accident. (The bus was a substitute, and the pedals were different from what the driver was used to.)
In response to its investigation of this accident, as well as several others where pedal misapplication was a factor, the NTSB has asked the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to require that brake transmission shift interlock devices be installed in heavy vehicles that are susceptible to pedal misapplication. The device requires the driver to apply the brakes in order to shift out of park, thereby preventing unintentional application of the accelerator at vehicle start-up.
In addition to concluding that pedal misapplication was a contributing factor, the Falls Township accident led the agency to conclude that "the nature of bus loading and unloading activities at schools creates a situation where an errant vehicle could easily strike pedestrians" and that a brake transmission shift interlock device would have prevented the accident.
Finally, the NTSB recommended that the National Association
of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services and the National Association for Pupil Transportation advise their members of the dangers of pedal misapplication, and to consider refresher training for drivers and mitigation strategies, such as starting buses only after loading is complete.