Where there's fire, there's smoke

Steve Hirano, Editor/Associate Publisher
Posted on October 1, 2003

Did you read the headline closely? If so, you should have noticed that it’s "reversed." The proper cliché, if there is such a thing, is "Where there's smoke, there's fire."

If you didn’t catch that alteration, you probably have the same problem that I do: You’re bombarded with so much information that you don’t pay close attention to any of it.

With the distractions of e-mail, the Internet, newspapers, magazines, television, junk mail, cell phones, pagers, PDAs, telemarketers and skywriters, it’s understandable that we have difficulty focusing on a single piece of information.

In most cases, this growing list of distractions has minimal impact on our lives. If we misread a headline in a magazine, for example, there are minimal consequences. Or, if we ignore the printed instructions on how to assemble a bookcase from IKEA, we can take it apart and do it over again (yes, guilty as charged).

But, as we all know, there are times when paying attention matters. A lot.

It’s difficult to stay tuned
As school transportation professionals, it’s your job to stay focused — whether you’re a transportation manager, route supervisor, dispatcher, mechanic, driver or bus aide. You don’t have the luxury afforded many other professionals because so many things can go wrong.

It was nearly eight years ago (Oct. 25, 1995) that a school bus in Fox River Grove, Ill., stopped at a busy intersection, failing to fully clear the tracks. Seconds later, a commuter train rammed the back end, separating the body from the chassis. Seven high school students were killed; two dozen others were injured. We need to pay attention to rail crossing safety every day.

Over the past several years, dozens of children have been stranded in school buses, many for several hours. I’ve said this numerous times, but I’ll say it again: Drivers must be continually reminded to check their buses after every run. To lose focus and forget to check the bus, even once, can have tragic consequences. The walk-back is easily done — or easily forgotten.

And let’s not forget the dangers of children not clearing the danger zone after unloading from the bus. It’s a driver’s worst nightmare to run over one of his or her own passengers, but it happens. Passengers need to be reminded to move away from the bus after they’ve been let off. Young children, especially, are impulsive and will dart back toward the bus to pick up papers that have blown under the vehicle. A driver who’s distracted because he’s running late might not make that final mirror check before pulling away.

When in motion, drivers need to focus on the road. Loud music, cell phones, beverages, raucous passengers — all of these things introduce a distraction that could result in an unsafe maneuver or a delayed response to another motorist’s unsafe maneuver. Keeping the driver’s task as simple as possible, with a minimum of theatrics, is the best way to reduce the chance of a crash.

Focus on the fundamentals
While it’s draining to bring up so much potential disaster, I believe it’s worthwhile to go over these fundamentals now and then. Blocking and tackling. That’s what it’s all about in this business. Every day that our industry stays focused on its mission is another day that parents can be assured that everything possible is being done to get their children to and from school safely.

Now, back to my e-mail. . .

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