School bus driving competition judge inspects the results.

At the 2023 competition in Kansas, this judge is determining how well the driver performed the $100 spot test. Drivers who successfully cover a piece of tape the size of a $100 bill with their inside right dual wheel gets the cash.

Source: Kansas State Pupil Transportation Association/Canva

The COVID pandemic put the brakes on many state, regional, and national school bus safety competitions, but these events are making a comeback.

School Bus Competition in Kansas

School bus and safety competition participants.

Participants in the KSPTA event in 2023.

Source: Kansas State Pupil Transportation Association

In Kansas, as an example, the state’s School Transportation Safety Conference and State Driving Competition comes to Wichita June 5-7. Early bird registration ends on May 10.

“School bus competitions are a fantastic way for drivers to understand ‘how’ they are driving when it comes to accurately maneuvering their bus,” said Melissa Ostermeyer, executive director of the Kansas State Pupil Transportation Association. “In addition, most school bus drivers are ‘out of sight and out of mind’ from the normal school day. School bus drivers are often not included in normal school district recognition programs/events/activities. Competitions give them a chance to be recognized.”

The Kansas competition is recommended so drivers can:

  • Learn the latest trends.
  • Improve training in general education and special education transportation.
  • Learn to produce better, more quantifiable results from the transportation team.
  • Improve transportation safety.
  • Decrease losses.

Events like this are great for transportation directors and supervisors, superintendents, fleet managers, mechanics, and technicians, driver trainers, and special education paraprofessionals. But, obviously, school bus drivers stand to gain the most from these activities.

“Competitions allow school bus drivers to not only hone their driving skills, but also to build camaraderie amongst school bus drivers in all school districts,” Ostermeyer said. “Competitions are an important training piece for every school bus driver, regardless of the number of years they have been driving a bus. This includes not only competing but judging. For example, if a school bus driver trainer judges a competition such as parallel park, and they watch 50, 60, 70 school bus drivers on a competition course do this, they have just added value to their training skills in seeing what a lot of school bus drivers do right or wrong.”

Back of a school bus.

In the diminishing clearance event, drivers must proceed through an increasingly narrow lane.

Source: Kansas State Pupil Transportation Association

The International Safety Competition Returns

On June 29-30, the National School Transportation Association hosts the 2024 School Bus Driver International Safety Competition in Austin, Texas. Participants can earn a possible total of 725 points. Competition events include:

  • General knowledge written test.
  • Vehicle inspection written test.
  • Offset alley, in which a driver is evaluated on handling a bus through offset lanes with minimal hesitation and without touching barriers or flag tips.
  • Railroad grade crossing – right turn. This event evaluates a driver’s common sense, degree of care, and knowledge of laws, rules, and regulations when required to maneuver a school bus across railroad tracks at an intersection.
  • Straight line. This helps determine a driver’s ability to maneuver the right wheels of a school bus over a straight path of a given width.
  • Diminishing clearance. In this event, the driver must follow a straight line with gradually reduced clearances.
  • Back-up stall. The driver must back a school bus into a stall that’s the width of the bus plus two feet without touching the upright standards and without crossing over the stall limit lines.
  • Left turn. This evaluates a driver’s ability to properly prepare for and execute a left turn.
  • Parallel parking. This event gauges the driver’s knack for parking the bus parallel to a curb without touching barriers placed at both ends of the parking area, without touching the curb, and within 18 inches of the curb.
  • Curb-line student loading zone. Perhaps one of the most important skills is knowing how to manage the loading and unloading of students in the danger zone around the bus. This test measures the driver’s alertness to the loading of elementary school passengers and whether they remember proper use of directional signals, yellow warning lights, red flashing crossover lights, stop-arm deployment and proper mirror use.
  • Stop line. This event measures the contestant’s depth perception, ability to use crossover mirrors, and whether they bring the bus to a smooth, complete stop.

“The School Bus Driver International Safety Competition remains an iconic event, where drivers showcase their skills in operating a bus safely and efficiently,” said Curt Macysyn, NSTA’s executive director. “In an era where school bus drivers are at a premium, this event underscores the level of talent and professionalism it takes to be a school bus driver. Highlighting the many benefits of the yellow bus, as well as the abilities of school bus drivers serves as inspiration for individuals to choose the path of pupil transportation as a career.”

Is your state or region holding a safety competition? Tell us about it in the comments!

About the author
Wes Platt

Wes Platt

Executive Editor

Wes Platt joined Bobit in 2021 as executive editor of School Bus Fleet Magazine. He writes and edits content about student transportation, school bus manufacturers and equipment, legislative issues, maintenance, fleet contracting, and school transportation technology - from classic yellow diesel buses to the latest EPA-funded electric, propane, and CNG vehicles.

View Bio