OK, I admit it, I don't check the oil level in my car every week (or every month for that matter) nor do I check the tire pressure (although I do own a neat-looking gauge) or replace my wiper blades before the rainy season (such as it is in Southern California). I am not proud of this neglectful attitude, but I do not consider it a serious character flaw. A serious character flaw would be more along the lines of driving past stopped school buses with flashing red lights or parking in a handicapped-only space or backing into a parked car at the grocery store and leaving a note that says "Hi, I'm leaving this note because some people are watching me. Sorry about the nasty dent. Have a great day!" Or, worse, failing to check for sleeping children on your school bus after you've finished your run. I've said this before, school bus drivers have a tremendous - and terrible - responsibility. So many things can go wrong. A drunken driver could swerve into oncoming traffic. An 18-wheeler could lose its brakes and run a red light. A child could get off the bus and then, inexplicably, dart in front of the vehicle as it pulls away. Some of these events bring tragedy and suffering. The grief is immeasurable. The wounds never heal. But the bus driver is not to blame.
Excuses aren't acceptable
When a sleeping child is left on a school bus, the driver can offer no excuse. It wasn't a drunk driver, a poorly maintained tractor-trailer or the sudden compulsion of a child. It was a bus driver who should have known better, done better. I've never driven a school bus, but I can't imagine that it takes much time and energy to walk to the back and check on and under the seats for leftover children. Moreover, it's not an option at most every school district; you're required to walk the bus after your run to ensure that no one's still on board. Some school districts and contractors have gone as far as outfitting their buses with electronic alarm systems that force drivers to walk to the back of the vehicle to insert a key that disables a buzzer. Others have fashioned "No children aboard" signs that have to be posted in the back window to show that the bus has been checked. Still, these reports crop up. I've collected half a dozen newspaper stories from this school year alone on bus drivers who've left children on their buses. In one case, a driver and an aide failed to notice that a 3-year-old mentally retarded boy was still strapped into his car seat. I don't know if the number of incidents is increasing or if reports of these occurrences are being more widely disseminated through the Internet. Trend or no trend, it's disturbing news.
Let's embrace zero tolerance
In some cases, the driver was suspended without pay for a few days or a week. In others, the penalty was substantially harsher. Families of children left on school buses - sometimes for several hours - have pressured superintendents and school boards to show zero tolerance toward this irresponsible behavior. I agree with these families. Just once is how many times a driver should be allowed to breach his or her agreement to carry out that particular duty. When you consider the trauma that any child - and these are often special-needs students - goes through during one of these incidents, you can't help but turn an unforgiving eye toward the offending party. There's no reason why these incidents should keep occurring. This industry can - and should - take pride in its outstanding safety record. On the whole, drivers are doing a great job. Now, let's urge them to go about 20 steps farther, every time they finish a run.