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October 21, 2009  |   Comments (7)   |   Post a comment

Approaches to Protect Students in Loading Zones

Recent student fatalities highlight the importance of maximizing safety in and around this area at schools. Pupil transportation industry professionals offer many effective ways to do so, from separating groups of traffic to implementing detailed policies for bus drivers to providing training for students. Communicating with school staff and parents is essential.

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Operations relocate bus loading zones, renovate parking lots

Many transportation departments have worked to separate traffic at their districts' school sites.

Vail (Ariz.) School District's transportation department is one such operation. Al Flores, director of transportation and facilities, says separating the traffic at one school site has entailed designating a bus loading zone at the back of the property and directing parent and staff parking to the front of the property.

"We've installed safety rails along all of the loading areas so that when students get off the bus they can't inadvertently step back into the loading areas," Flores adds.

He says that upon analyzing the traffic at another school site, the department found that very few buses dropped off students; there were more walkers than buses, so what used to be the bus loading area was turned into a parent parking lot.

The operation's ability to easily reconfigure its schools' loading zones stems from its participation in determining the layout of the schools.

"We put together a committee, and it usually consists of transportation staff, administrators, principals, additional school staff, parents for students at those grade levels, as well as people from the neighborhood," Flores explains. "We get everyone's input, from the way the buildings are laid out to where the buses drop off. When we all get involved, everyone who's affected by the process buys into it."

The transportation departments at Lake Shore Central School District in Angola, N.Y., and Fayette County School Corp. in Connersville, Ind., have also redirected and separated traffic at their schools.

"Lake Shore's middle school and high schools share a campus, and there is a long service road between the two," explains Michael Dallessandro, transportation supervisor. "We noticed that at peak times there was a ton of traffic congestion, so we limited the direction of travel - kind of a one-way-in, oneway-out situation so that we didn't have cars and buses competing for the entrances and exits. We also put in a student-only entrance and exit."

Transportation Director Jane Oakley says Fayette County School Corp. has completed two construction projects over the last five years. At each of the two schools, parking lots were enlarged at opposite sides of the buildings for parents to drop off their children. Moreover, an additional parking lot was built at each of the schools for other vehicles. Each of the three lots is separate from the schools' loading zones and features signs and pavement markings to direct traffic.

Establish detailed policies for bus drivers

As exemplified by the incidents at SCPS and MSDWT, of equal importance to separating traffic at school sites is ensuring that school bus drivers follow polices and procedures in loading zones that will keep students out of harm's way.

One common policy among operations is that drivers are not allowed to back their buses in loading zones or anywhere on school property.

In Oregon, this is a statewide policy. Steven Huillet, pupil transportation director at the Oregon DOE, says that backing on school property is prohibited unless there is an adult at the back of the bus (either inside or outside) directing the driver.

A similar policy has been established at Columbia County Schools in Evans, Ga. Transportation Director Dewayne Porter says the drivers are not permitted to back up on school campuses unless it is absolutely necessary, in which case school administrators must assist them.

Meanwhile, at Lewistown (Mont.) Public Schools, Transportation Director Steve Klippenes says backing up is not allowed in loading zones at any time, and under no circumstances.

Rolling V Transportation Services bus drivers in South Fallsburg, N.Y., must follow an equally stringent statewide policy: Company President Phil Vallone says drivers cannot move their buses in a loading zone if students are within 15 feet of them.

Lewistown Public Schools' transportation department also enforces a maximum speed limit of 5 mph in loading zones, and drivers must ensure that all students are seated and check their mirrors thoroughly before they can move the buses to leave.

Being mindful of speed and, more specifically, driving 5 mph or less on school property is something that Baxter feels can improve loading zone safety, because it gives drivers time to respond to pedestrians.

"Drivers should have a designated parking place so that kids aren't wandering around trying to find their buses," he adds.

Fayette County's school bus drivers practice this, and Oakley says the drivers are also required to park their buses chevron-style in the loading zones. (In zones where the layout cannot accommodate buses parked in this position, the drivers park the buses nose to tail.)

Huillet is an advocate for chevron parking, and he encourages operations in his state to use this parking style whenever possible.

"It discourages kids from walking between buses," he says. "Plus, with the buses being as long as they are, it blocks the lane behind them and prevents motorists from driving behind them so that if kids do go between the buses, there's less of a chance that they'll get hit."

For operations that use a route numbering system that varies from the traditional practice of painting the route number on the bus (if, say, operations use animal graphics to represent the routes), Baxter recommends that drivers take down any signs posted in the windows before the buses depart the loading zone.

Columbia County Schools' transportation department has adopted a similar policy and taken it one step further. "We don't allow any signs to be posted in the buses," Porter says. "If the schools want to post signs or logos to help students remember which buses they are supposed to load, we prefer them to use magnetic signs that can be posted on the outside of the bus because signs in the window can block the driver's vision."

Lake Shore Central School District and Phoenix-based Bee Line Bus Transportation LLC have also implemented effective policies to bolster loading zone safety. At Lake Shore, drivers must turn the bus radios down so that they don't become distracted, they must watch the buses in front of and behind them and they must leave enough space in the bus line-up for the emergency exits to be opened if necessary, according to Dallessandro.

Bee Line Bus General Manager Kathy Roadlander says that before drivers can leave the zones in the afternoons, they must do a curb check and communicate with one another via their two-way radios to ensure that all students have boarded. The bus doors are then shut, and only school administrators are authorized to open the doors if necessary.

"At one school that we serve, the drivers are not permitted to close the bus doors and leave after students have unloaded until the school opens its doors," Roadlander adds. "That way, all of the children are supervised as they enter the building."

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(Continued from comment below): Certainly it can be agreed that by high school age a child ought to know better, but is that a reasonable expectation in the event children ignoring safe crossing directions are not immediately removed from riding the buses until fully resolved? Defiance from children is only part of the problem. The bigger issue is the adults (including parents) failing to do what they are supposed to be doing to help the bus drivers keep kids safe. Too many children die more so from indifference and failures to enforce than from a so-called tragedy. Violate safe crossing practices long enough and the result ought to be obvious. Free Death at the school bus stop booklet (Thread Post #4):

jkraemer    |    Jan 05, 2011 01:29 PM

Motion sensors at the front and perhaps at least on the door side of the bus can be an excellent help. Defining responsibility that is not so exclusive to the bus driver would save more lives. And there are plenty of districts that do define both child and parent responsibilities but get very little press. California requires the bus driver secure the bus and cross students, a frightening thought in other states where the drivers know the kids are out-of-control on their buses. (What excuse is there to allow any out-of-control child ride any school bus in any state?) In Regina, Canada the crossing sign and lights are prohibited in the city. Riders depart and walk to the nearest intersection to cross after the bus is gone providing students clear visibility in all directions. Not only can these devices unreasonably interfere with traffic, but according to Sgt. Koroluk, "These devices could give the students a false sense of security and therefore not take normal precautions to avoid motorists who do not obey them for one reason or another." Strict enforcement is often missing at the bus stop, kids refusing to make driver eye contact, crossing too close to the bus, running, horseplay in the road, running back to the bus, and on and on. When a tragedy does occur the usual is plenty of expressed sorrow about the death and a claim the buses are safe. In December of 2009 (PINELLAS COUNTY, FL) high school student Nora Hernandez-Huapilla was late one too many times to her bus stop and died running across the road in the dark, rainy weather and against the cross walk light when hit by a car. Soon after Nora's death school authorities were out in force instructing students how to cross the road - promptly told by students to f-off. Certainly it can be agreed that by high school age a child ought to know better, but is that a reasonable expectation in the event children ignoring safe crossing directions are not immediately removed from riding the buses until fully resolved? De

jkraemer    |    Jan 05, 2011 01:26 PM

This is all well in reguards to regular ed buses (full size buses) in school bus loops. How about the special needs buses that are forced to load and unload their students in the teacher parking lots along with the parent drop off's. Seems some schools don't like to have "special needs buses" associated with their schools. To add insult to injury, are told not to use their loading and unloading lights to keep the flow of traffic going. As a school bus driver of nearly 30 years, I run my lights no matter where I am loading or unloading and for the entire duration of tie-downs for a wheelchair or securing a student in an approved child restraint system. I hear other drivers calling over the two way radio to rudely tell another driver to turn their loading and unloading lights off so that they can pass. The job of looking out for our students fall upon the school bus driver. The driver has the choice to move the bus or look to make sure the area is clear for the bus to manuver.

Annette    |    Sep 25, 2010 04:53 PM

What is so very sad is that school attroneys have to deal with an issue after the fact. You will get very limited information at this point on the back ground and behind the scenes circumstances that led up to fatalities. There are just too many liabilities to cover now. Let us just look at the bare facts. ALL school bus drivers are provided training through the State of Indiana so they can obtain their School Bus Certification card. So with that being said, the bus driver knows proper safety precautions to be followed while loading and or unloading any student. The decision is ALWAYS the driver's when to load and unload. As a school bus driver for eight years with special needs students, a sub-school bus driver, and now school bus trainer, the driver is the one openning and closing the entrance door to the school bus. The people sitting behind a desk somewhere do not make that choice exactly when you load and unload in any given situation. You, the driver makes that choice based upon the safety training you have had prior to obtaining your CDL license and State Certificate to operate a school bus. That is the bottom line bare facts. Now lets look at this opinion I have. Again, the driver makes the ultimate decision to load and unload students. The driver does not get to decide exactly where on school property to load and unload, normally. The School Board has specific approved loading and unloading areas. The drivers are NOT to be loading or unloading anywhere else. In order to make such a change the driver should document a clear report, in writing, to the supervisor, director, and school Superintendent. You can state that this report is either a blind cc or a designated cc letter report. This means, with a cc letter you state at the bottom exactly who else is receiving this very same photo copied letter. In a blind cc letter you put no names at the bottom, just that there are others receiving this letter. This documentation does two things; it shows that the

Dan Luttrell    |    Apr 22, 2010 05:13 AM

Back in the early to mid 1980's when I first started working as a sub-school bus driver for the County, I noticed one thing that stuck out most at every school I traveled to - "there was no real designated traffic patterns." What I mean is that all had two way traffic everywhere. I submitted a report to my Director, Mr. Allen, at that time. He had me explain to him several of the school's and their specific roadway issues. He said he had never thought about these issues since no one ever complained that there was a problem before. He told me these were great ideas and he would take those before the School Board for input. It wasn't long after that until new signs were put up and building administrators were out on the parking lots and side walks directing traffic. The School Board changed all traffic patterns to "one-way" traffic flows. Several schools had new bus lane drive way designated pick-up and drop-off areas. I drove as a permanent special needs driver for eight years. I have worked in the transportation department a total of 26 to 27 years now. My first safety class for becoming certified as a school bus driver was conducted by Mr. Baxter, who now is at our State House, as State level Director. I pointed out the things I noticed due to what I was taught in the safety classes. Pay attention to safety training people. You can make a difference and save lives. That is a win win situation for all involved. There were other safety issues down through my years I always pointed out, sometimes I knew the person across the table did not want to hear about a few specific ones. I spoke up anyway due to the lives at stake. I still have my job and things were addressed even though issues were difficult to say the least. Do not just assume someone else should already be doing something about a safety issue. YOU are part of the EYES ON THE GROUND and BEHIND THE STEERING WHEEL. Someone sitting behind a desk somewhere can not possibly see what you do day in and day out. "I

Daniel Luttrell    |    Apr 21, 2010 05:15 AM

I work in school transporation and understand that dangerous traffic conditions around schools exist in epedemic levels across this country. My question is why must a student die before any action is taken to correct an individual hazardous situation? Most of these problem areas don't need a study commission just a little common sense.

Roy W    |    Apr 14, 2010 05:36 AM

I know that there has been available for over 20 yrs,of a system that alerts the driver and student that they are in the danger zone. All the mirrors and the best training in the world can not & has not prevented these accident! It's time to put an advance pedestrian warning system in the National Standards!

April Ford    |    Dec 21, 2009 09:09 AM

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