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April 26, 2012  |   Comments (11)   |   Post a comment

Bus driver's medical episode prompts safety training

By Kelly Roher


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Albuquerque Public Schools’ bus passengers are receiving training from their drivers on how to stop the vehicle if the driver becomes incapacitated.

Albuquerque Public Schools’ bus passengers are receiving training from their drivers on how to stop the vehicle if the driver becomes incapacitated.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) is providing safety training for bus passengers following a driver’s medical emergency earlier this year.  

On the morning of Feb. 13, Rhonda Carlsen was waiting with her daughters at a bus stop in their neighborhood. They saw the bus approaching at what Carlsen estimates was 10 to 15 mph, but it passed the stop and continued on.

“We were really puzzled that he didn’t stop,” Carlsen told SBF this month. “My daughter started running up the sidewalk to grab the driver’s attention, and she got a glimpse that something was wrong, and she yelled that to me and I started running after the bus.”  

As Carlsen ran after the bus, she was unsuccessful in trying to open the door to get on board, so she said she yelled at the children inside to open it.    

“A student stood up, and I pointed to where he could open the door. He did, and I was able to get inside and stop the bus by putting my foot on the brake and turning off the ignition,” she explained, adding that she stopped the bus before it hit anything.  

A neighbor who had been standing at the bus stop with Carlsen called 911 when she was running after the bus. No students were injured, and Carlsen later learned that the bus driver recovered from his episode. (Doctors have not been able to determine what happened to him.)

When her daughters returned home from school that afternoon, she asked them if they would have known how to stop their bus and open the door if the driver became incapacitated. They told her “no,” and Carlsen said other children in their neighborhood indicated the same.

Feeling that some changes needed to be made, Carlsen met with APS’ student transportation services division officials, including Co-Interim Director Roger Garcia, later that week. What resulted was the development of a training program for students on emergency procedures for stopping a school bus.  

The training includes how to use the emergency/parking brake, how to turn off the bus’ engine, how to use a two-way radio and how to open a manual door and an air-operated door.

Garcia told SBF in an interview that all of the bus drivers from the 16 companies that APS contracts with received training at the student transportation services office on the instruction that they would be providing to students.

“The training is being provided to all 40,000 students that ride our school buses, and each driver will identify at least five students who they feel are responsible enough to take on these tasks should they become incapacitated — these students will receive additional hands-on training,” he explained. “We’ve told drivers that they have to have at least one student who’s able to do these things at each stop on their route.”

The students who are assigned to perform these tasks must sit in the front of the bus opposite the driver.

The training for students began the week of April 16, and Garcia hopes to have it completed before the end of the school year. It will then be performed twice a year in conjunction with students’ emergency evacuation drill instruction.

“We’re stressing [to students] that the first thing that’s important to do is stop the bus by pulling the emergency brake — everything else is secondary,” he said. “We’re also stressing to not evacuate the bus unless it’s absolutely necessary, because if you leave the bus and you’re on a roadway, it could be dangerous.”

APS also created a brochure that covers all topics in the training with accompanying images of the components and where they are located. It will be distributed to the students that the district transports. Inside the 407 buses that the contractors run for the district, a laminated information sheet with the emergency steps will be posted above the driver’s area.  

Garcia noted that while an event like what occurred on Feb. 13 may not happen again, it showed a flaw in APS’ service to students that needed to be addressed, and the student transportation services department felt it was important to take steps to avoid a future tragedy. He also said that Carlsen has been very supportive of the department’s efforts to implement the training.  

For her part, Carlsen speaks highly of the transportation department personnel and the district as a whole.

“I’ve gotten such a great response from the school district and the transportation department,” she said. “I’m really hoping that on a national level, people can learn from a situation like this and realize that they can implement this in their safety training for students.”


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Read more about: emergency planning, New Mexico


I have been driving bus for over 15 years, I have taught a few of my riders each year what do if something would happen to me. However in my 15 years of driving I have never pulled the emergency brake while the bus was moving. Has anyone done this? What happens and what is the max speed that you could do this? Just sayin! I always assumed if a rider was standing over me and pulled the emergency brake while we are doing 30 mph, the rider would hit the windshield. So, has anyone done this? This might be a good class for the summer "Advanced Training Classes."

Linda    |    Feb 05, 2014 08:00 AM

Betty DeJohn, I'd like to help you please contact me at 505-463-1689. Thank you!

Rhonda Carlsen    |    May 14, 2012 12:56 PM

From a drivers point of view ~I have been trying to get the county I work at to address this and they are not listening. I train my students on our bus what about the others. Frustrated no one is listening!

Betty DeJohn    |    May 09, 2012 06:41 PM

After this incident I learned that our BUS DRIVERS have an thankless and extremely difficutly job with minimal pay. It's important to remember the purpose of this article is not to "judge" the driver or any other bus driver but it is to realize this can happen to anyone at anytime and because buses carry such a huge liablity transporting so many children that if you are not training them properly for instances like this it's time to start. We all can stand to be a little more healthy it's not just for bus drivers!

Rhonda Carlsen    |    May 01, 2012 11:40 AM

@ Deane McGoldrick THANK YOU THANK YOU! for reading this story and being interested in making changes in your area. The purpose of this article is to bring awareness and it seems it is!!! I don't want anyone to have to go through what I did in ABQ so implementing the changes necessary to make sure your students are safer is critical! Thanks again

Rhonda Carlsen    |    May 01, 2012 11:35 AM

@ Arizona: NM law requires our school districts to have drills twice a year also. Does your training include what to do in situations where the driver can not help? If so it would be great to get in touch with you to see what training you have implemented and if it can help us!? Thanks

Rhonda Carlsen    |    May 01, 2012 11:30 AM

I don't agree with the negative comment about "lazy" bus drivers. I'm disappointed that someone actually posted that comment. I am a dispatcher and see first hand how hard the drivers work, the training that they go through, and the physical demands of the job. I think that anyone who sits behind a desk all day probably gets much less exercise than a bus driver. I also think that if you really want an accurate survey of the health issues of bus drivers versus other occupations, you'd be quite surprised. After all, the drivers have physicals every other year and sometimes every year. The probelm is that people in other occupations do not get their names in the news anytime something happens to them. Rather than worrying about the lazy bus driver, one should be more concerned about the person driving the car and texting/talking on the phone and then runs the bus's red lights as they are loading children. That happens every day! Who's concerned about that??

Carol Saleh    |    May 01, 2012 05:04 AM

Arizona requires all schools using school buses to go through an evacuation drill twice a year which includes all of the aformentioned situations. I am always surprised when states wait until a "near" disaster to impliment safety measures.

Jan    |    Apr 27, 2012 01:55 PM

We discussed this issue last week in light of the national news story regarding a similar situation. This is great! I am wondering if the district would be willing to share the training materials? Any way to get the brochure and laminated handout and on bus display materials/ Please let me know. Thanks.

Deane McGoldrick    |    Apr 27, 2012 04:13 AM

About time. I drove bus 6 years and always wanted this implemented. Too bad it took such a event to make something so simple but life saving to start happening.

Dee    |    Apr 26, 2012 03:41 PM

Why are we hearing so many health issues happening with drivers lately? This job has an adverse effect on health, drivers get lazy, eat stuff that's not the best and sit and drive all day. Time for a "healthy school bus driver" day, promoting exercise and proper diet. We know the job is about the kids, but it should be about the drivers as well.

SoCalDriver    |    Apr 26, 2012 10:52 AM

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