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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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For pupil transportation officials, Finlayson-Schueler says communication with parents entails ensuring that signs and clear pavement markings are present at school sites in order for them to know where they should drop off or pick up their children. "Make sure that a person who had never come to the school before would know where to drive and park," he says.

If changes to school sites are in the works, Finlayson-Schueler recommends sending a notice home with students, putting articles in the district newsletter or talking to the local media about doing a story on the changes before they are implemented.

"On the day that changes are implemented, stand out there and distribute notices to parents and provide answers to questions they may have," he adds.

Furthermore, Dallessandro notes that efforts to communicate with parents, as well as all efforts to maximize student safety in and around bus loading and unloading zones must be continuous.

"Managing loading and unloading zones is not a situation where you can post some signs, set up cones and send out a letter and be done with it," he says. "I think people by nature want to park as close as they can to things, especially during inclement weather, so you have to work year-round in enforcing policies and educating people."

A school bus driver's perspective

Michele Kuhne, a school bus driver for Greater Johnstown (N.Y.) School District, is among the industry professionals who believe that separating school bus loading zones from parent pickup and drop-off areas and student parking lots is a key way to increase student safety.

"We have a couple of schools where, to get to the parent parking lot, the parents drive through the bus loading zone," Kuhne reveals. "If the area was rearranged so that the parents parked on the other side of the school, it would remove all of our problems."

Kuhne also feels it is important for schools, when designing loading zones, to consider the length of a school bus and how much room is needed for a driver to turn and maneuver. She says the larger the zone is, the better it is for bus drivers.

To support her point, Kuhne relays a problem she faced while transporting a student with special needs. "The bus loop for the school where the student needed to be dropped off was a half-circle. There was no way I could pull up to the curb to engage the wheelchair lift without backing up, but I couldn't back up because it's illegal in New York state," she says.

(Kuhne notes that a wheelchair lift does not operate properly if the bus is far away from the curb.)

She also advocates working with outside agencies to bolster safety around schools. Her district's transportation department occasionally conducts Operation Safe Stop. Police officers follow the department's buses and issue tickets to motorists who illegally pass the buses.

"When it's publicized how many tickets they issued, it helps educate the public, which is what we're all about - we need motorists to obey the law," Kuhne says.

"Safe zones" bolster safety near schools
Officers at the Odessa (Texas) Police Department designate "safe zones" weekly throughout the city to enhance safety among motorists and the public.

Safe zones are areas in which traffic enforcement is increased to gain voluntary compliance with traffic laws. Police officers work these areas singly or in groups, paying close attention for red light, stop sign, speeding and other moving violations.

The areas include crosswalks, school zones and school buses while students are loading and unloading.

"The officers talk to the motorists they see making violations and let them know that they've had an infraction," Cpl. Danny Yeager explains. "For example, even if the bus' lights aren't flashing, there could be kids who dart out in front of the buses."

Yeager says the officers select the areas where the zones will be designated based on calls from people complaining about traffic congestion, or wherever they notice a potential for problems when they are on patrol.

Safe zones are announced the week prior to enforcement action being taken, and the officers strive to provide as much enforcement as possible each week.

One week they may patrol the zones for five or six hours; another week they may patrol for one hour - it depends on the amount of personnel available.

The safe zones program is not restricted to Odessa. Yeager says the department works with neighboring police departments to establish an intercity effort.

Bus driver training tools
Continuous training to sharpen bus drivers' skills will enhance student safety in loading zones. Larry Bluthardt of the Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE) emphasizes the value of mirror training.

The KSDE utilizes the resources of Dick Fischer, president of Trans-Consult. Bluthardt says Fischer comes in every summer to head a 40-hour class for driver trainers. One of its biggest components is mirror adjustment - specifically, how to properly adjust and use bus mirrors. "It's an excellent and invaluable program," he says.

Bluthardt also recommends a video by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety titled "Children in Traffic." "It throws you into a child's world when he or she goes in a street," he explains. "Their peripheral vision is not strong until they're 11 or 12 years old. Their hearing is very acute, but they can't decipher at which direction they hear noises."

Pedal misapplication contributes to loading zone accident

In January 2007, a Pennsbury School District driver's bus injured 20 students when it accelerated in a Falls Township, Pa., high school's loading zone and crashed into a retaining wall.

In its investigation of the accident, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determined that the probable cause was pedal misapplication by the driver. Pedal misapplication occurs when a driver depresses the accelerator instead of, or in addition to, the brake pedal.

A report synopsis indicates that the agency also believes that the driver's unfamiliarity with the bus contributed to the accident. (The bus was a substitute, and the pedals were different from what the driver was used to.)

In response to its investigation of this accident, as well as several others where pedal misapplication was a factor, the NTSB has asked the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to require that brake transmission shift interlock devices be installed in heavy vehicles that are susceptible to pedal misapplication. The device requires the driver to apply the brakes in order to shift out of park, thereby preventing unintentional application of the accelerator at vehicle start-up.

In addition to concluding that pedal misapplication was a contributing factor, the Falls Township accident led the agency to conclude that "the nature of bus loading and unloading activities at schools creates a situation where an errant vehicle could easily strike pedestrians" and that a brake transmission shift interlock device would have prevented the accident.

Finally, the NTSB recommended that the National Association
of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services and the National Association for Pupil Transportation advise their members of the dangers of pedal misapplication, and to consider refresher training for drivers and mitigation strategies, such as starting buses only after loading is complete.

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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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