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October 01, 2006  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

Confronting the Top 10 Safety Concerns

Although stop-arm violations are a top safety concern for school bus operations across the nation, other transportation-related issues can be just as vexing. The following list identifies the most common challenges pupil transporters face and effective ways of dealing with them.

by Albert Neal, Associate Editor

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4. Rail grade crossing
Collisions between school buses and trains are rare, but proper training for drivers in areas with rail crossings is a necessity. Trainers need only to reflect on the Conasauga, Tenn., collision in 2000 that claimed three lives, and the Fox River Grove, Ill., incident in 1995 that caused seven fatalities. The dangers of highway-rail grade crossings require the full attention of school bus drivers.

To optimize training, consult with state coordinators for Operation Lifesaver, a national, non-profit education and awareness program dedicated to ending rail-crossing collisions and fatalities (visit for more information).

5. Children left on the bus
The media love to bring to the public’s attention an incident in which a child is stranded on a school bus. Problem is, these incidents occur too frequently.

News accounts appear almost weekly with a story of a child being left alone on a school bus for hours at a time. Post-trip inspections are, of course, the solution here. But regardless of how much training takes place in this area, incidences of children being left behind still occur. Reminders to check the bus before and after routes are common during driver training sessions nationwide. The penalties for stranding a child range from reprimands to immediate dismissal.

To circumvent human error, manufacturers have equipped buses with electronic devices, including those that install directly into the bus’ electrical system. Some operations have flags or placards that must be displayed at the end of routes as proof that an inspection has taken place.

Some buses have alarms that sound if a door is engaged before the child-check system is deactivated. Trainers must be especially vigilant to stress to new drivers the importance of post-trip inspections. (For more information on this topic, see “Bus Empty?” beginning on pg. 22 in our August 2006 issue.)

6. Faulty equipment
Dealing with faulty equipment starts with the knowledge and skill set of technicians. Technicians must develop a preventive maintenance program that is suitable for the fleet size and manpower available. Having an effective preventive maintenance program in place can be a major cost-saver for any operation.

A good starting point for shop managers is the manufacturer’s suggested preventive maintenance program. Some school bus operators will modify this schedule, depending on the circumstances of their fleet.

Techs should also monitor the fleet for common problems through their own observations and through feedback from drivers. Drivers must perform their pre-trip inspections of the steering system, parking brakes, tires, horn, mirrors, lights and other key items on the bus. Technicians should use the drivers’ reports to enhance their preventive maintenance schedules. Repairs in any of these areas should be done before the vehicle returns to the road.

7. School site safety
The potential for an incident taking place in the danger zone in the school bus loop is just as prominent as it is on the highway. Pupil transporters and site administrators must be aware of children lingering or playing in the danger zone, which can result in injuries or, worse, a fatality. Sufficient adult supervision can effectively deter horseplay around school buses. Children are less likely to break bus loop rules if site administrators consistently uphold the rules.

Backing up buses should be avoided whenever possible. This usually occurs when buses are parked too tightly.

There should also be a system in place that dictates an order for when buses are released from the loop. Buses should leave as a group as opposed to individually, and they should not tailgate one another. For the most efficient bus loop systems, transportation personnel should be involved in the design.

Jim Beck, shop foreman at Forest Lake (Minn.) Area Schools, has seen the mayhem caused when school officials don’t involve transportation officials during the design of a bus loop.

“We’ve had all kinds of congestion problems,” says Beck. “Students have had fender benders with school buses inside the loop and have had collisions with one another in a rush to get past the congestion caused by the poorly designed loop.”

8. Bus route safety
Each school year, route coordinators should review bus routes and stops for safety and efficiency. Drivers, parents and other members of the public, as well as law enforcement, should be included in the process.

With regard to route safety, visibility is of primary concern. Drivers should take note of hanging tree branches, debris in the road and road features such as hills and curves. Placement of stops should be carefully deliberated over if for some reason the safety or efficiency of a site changes. Cul-de-sacs and dead ends should be avoided in routes, as they create maneuverability issues for the driver.

Route coordinators should be mindful of stops near the residences of sex offenders. Some states have laws that dictate how far a bus stop must be from the addresses of registered sex offenders, and some companies have mapping software that can help in avoiding those addresses.

9. Driver substance abuse
Background checks and screenings of drivers must be a part of the hiring process. Federal law requires drug and alcohol testing, both pre-hiring and on the job.

Random inquiries should also be instituted at school bus operations to ensure that drivers with a history of substance abuse or arrest records for prior infractions involving alcohol or drug use have not slipped through the cracks.

10. Reducing emissions
Studies indicate that the pollutants emitted by diesel engines, especially older models, can be harmful to the health of children, both on and off the bus. It’s important to try to reduce the emission of pollutants by minimizing idling times and replacing older vehicles with new ones that feature cleaner-burning engines.

Beginning in 2007, the EPA will require newly manufactured heavy- and medium-duty diesel engines to be approximately 10 times cleaner than past ones, a significant step in preserving the environment. One consequence, however, is that these cleaner-burning engines will be more expensive than their predecessors.

Programs such as the EPA’s Clean School Bus USA provide resources to obtain funding for retrofitting and other solutions to help in the reduction of diesel emissions. The Clean School Bus USA Website is The site offers information on how to submit proposals to gain access to the millions of dollars in funding available for school bus operators as well as information on state supplemental environmental projects and private funding.


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