Tips for industry novices

Dan Luttrell
Posted on December 3, 2009

School districts have to do more with less money today than ever before.
Additionally, many of us are reaching retirement age, and we will take our years of hard-earned knowledge with us.

New people will have new ideas - that is great! We should always encourage our employees to be more involved and to learn to love their jobs, because people's lives depend on us getting our jobs right each day.

No one should have to reinvent the wheel in this industry. All I expect out of anyone joining our industry is for him or her to come in with an appreciation for our high safety standards and to work at maintaining
those safety standards.

Use care when cutting costs
For those just starting out, listen up. Do not cut costs at the expense of student safety. Talk to your veteran drivers to see what they have had to deal with over the years. Ask them specifically what they felt were the best improvements in school bus transportation.

I remember when a convex mirror was installed on the front corner of my 1979 Chevy bus hood. I could see the ground in front of my bus! Who thought to put a mirror there? A year or so later, all buses had these mirrors installed at the corners of the hood.

Why are these mirrors important? Several years ago, I drove as a substitute during an afternoon route. It was just after 3 p.m., and
traffic was heavy on a one-way street. I had to drop off students on the curb; others had to cross the street. I counted all of the students as they got off the bus and counted them again after everyone was off. I came
up one short.

I set the parking brake, put the bus in neutral and looked in all of the mirrors one more time - there he was, bent down in front of the bus' bumper and, you guessed it, tying his shoe. His mother was crossing
the street toward him when I laid on the horn. He jumped up while Mom was getting on his case about what he was doing. Had I worried about all the traffic backed up behind me or how soon I could complete my route, I would have run over this young man.

Today, we have two-way radios and cell phones for emergency use on school buses, as well as contact phone numbers that we didn't have years ago. Set aside money in your operation's budget to purchase safety equipment for your school buses, such as new video recording systems. Specify such upgrades within your bus master bid sheets. Do your research and talk with other school districts about new devices being offered.

Retain conscientious and skilled bus drivers
The best piece of "equipment" on a school bus is a good driver who knows the bad things that can happen if he or she doesn't have full attention on the job.

Don't tinker with good drivers and bus monitors. Good drivers have many years of built-in good habits, like counting their students when they get off at each bus stop and checking their mirrors if the count doesn't add
up. They account for a missing student before moving a school bus, and they always report problems to get safety concerns taken care of. Pay attention when they report a problem - they are your eyes and ears when they're behind the wheel.

Good drivers don't drive a school bus with malfunctioning stop arm lights. Good drivers don't call or get on a two-way radio to ask permission to drive a school bus with a stop arm that is not working properly. If you have people who do this at your operation, do what you can to retrain them so that they do not continue to try to use bus equipment that is unsafe. If you have to, fire these people and hire and train new people who understand why the school bus industry has high safety standards.
Children die from such irresponsible actions, and you can't bring them back. Anyone who regularly executes unsafe practices involving school buses should not work in pupil transportation.

Uphold high safety standards
Don't tinker with the equipment on buses, and don't tinker with the industry's safety standards - many years went into developing standards to handle out-of-control students and drivers who don't do the job they were hired to do.

Moreover, let us all try hard to maintain these safety standards, no matter what the cost. Even though we have to control costs, we have to keep students safe; it's something that should not be taken lightly.

Dan Luttrell is a certified school bus driver and a driver trainer at North Lawrence Community Schools in Bedford, Ind. He has trained more than 50 school bus drivers and is an ASE-certified master technician in school buses as well as medium- and heavy-duty trucks.

Related Topics: danger zone, driver training

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