Before school bus drivers begin their daily routes, they must ensure that the bus they will be driving works; children’s lives depend on it. School Bus Fleet talked to a school bus technician/substitute driver to get tips on conducting proper pre- and post-trip inspections.
Get Familiar with Your School Bus
One of the most important things a school bus driver can do is familiarize themselves with their vehicle. Drivers know their vehicles better than anyone else, so they know best when something looks out of place.
“If something doesn't look right, you want to look at it a little more,” Perry (Iowa) Community School District bus technician and substitute driver Ralph Walker said. “After you drive it a couple of times, you'll kind of have an idea of what on your vehicle is going to be normal. If you don't know what it is, don't be afraid to ask questions [to your supervisor or the mechanic]. Because they want it to be safe too.”
Ignoring something that looks off can be extremely dangerous.
“It's better to ask and get some kind of an answer you can work with than to say, ‘it doesn't look right but I'm going to go anyways.’ That's where people get in trouble and [become] a road hazard or end up getting somebody hurt,” Walker emphasized.
Doing pre- and post-trip inspections every day can become redundant, but it’s crucial to give yourself time each morning and evening to check your vehicle. After you leave the bus depot for the day, someone could back into the bus, leaving a dent. While that may just seem cosmetic, even a minor collision could lead to damage to the components that you can’t see. Noting a simple dent could allow a technician to find mechanical issues that would have otherwise led to a breakdown.
Stay Focused on Inspection Consistency
The worst thing you can do as a school bus driver is become complacent in your inspections.
“If you're getting that complacent, you need to do something different,” Walker said. “Take a break; something’s got to change because at that point you're becoming a safety issue, not just to yourself, but to your passengers and to other people.”
If nothing else, this process helps you realize what to watch for on your personal vehicle so you know when something is awry.
Advice for New Drivers
This process can seem daunting for new school bus drivers. Walker stressed the importance of asking a more senior driver, a technician, or your supervisor for guidance on the inspection process.
“A new person is going to be a little overwhelmed with this. And it's not that difficult. But it does take a bit to learn what parts move what parts shouldn't,” Walker added.
Tips to Optimize Your Pre- and Post-Trip Inspections
Here are several things Walker suggests doing each day to optimize your pre- and post-trip inspections:
- Give yourself plenty of time: A proper inspection should take around 15 minutes.
- Do a walkaround: A basic walkaround will reveal a lot – leaks, exterior damage, low tire levels, etc.
- Look under the hood: Check fluid levels; make sure all components are still connected; look for loose bolts; etc.
- Check underneath the vehicle: Is there a puddle of liquid under the bus? Note the color of the liquid. If you’re not sure what it is, ask a technician or a supervisor.
- Adjust the mirrors: Do the crossover and rearview mirrors give you a good view of the area surrounding your bus?
- Don’t ignore the instrument panel: When you get in the front seat, check the fuel level, and check all gauges for proper operation.
- Do a quick light check: Do your headlights and taillamps work? Make sure the turn signals — both front and rear — work.
- Check the safety features: Make sure the stop arm opens and closes. Check that the stop sign works and flashes like it should. Does the emergency exit door open? Do the windshield wipers work properly? If not, that will be a safety hazard in wet weather.
- Look for discrepancies: Once you’re familiar with your vehicle, you’ll notice when something sounds different or looks different.
- Remember that both the pre- and the post-trip inspection are important: Some issues may not reveal themselves until after the bus has been running. A leak on a cold bus may not be as visible as a leak on a bus that has just been running.
These are just some basic tips to keep in mind. Talk to your transportation department and see if they have a list available of specific vehicle components to inspect every day. If your department does not have one, your state pupil transportation department may.
Bottom line, the pre- and post-trip inspection is one of the most important parts of your daily duties. Make sure you always treat it as such.
“[If you see something wrong with the bus], don’t just hit the road with it. Be cautious and be proactive,” Walker said.