Is a new kind of School Bus Safety Week needed?

Updated: School Bus Safety Week: October 22-26, 2012
This Year’s Theme:  “I see the driver. The driver sees me.”

School bus stop postage stamp
 By James Kraemer

Every year in October we see a great deal of effort and press dedicated to School Bus Safety Week. Top of the list are announcements in the press that police will be patrolling the streets looking for motorists violating the bus stop law, something most of us thought was happening every day of every week.

Statistics are splashed across media pages and television screens like the beginning of a war, to once and for all put an end to motorists running school bus stop signs.

Field correspondents can be found reporting battle activities from strategic locations around a city under siege of a gang of disobedient motorists (some previous bus riders) that only law enforcement and hefty fines can bring to a conclusion.

‘Battle Zone’ interviews with industry experts cover the dangers of motorists disobeying school bus stop signs. Toss in some education that every legal motorist already knows, turn on more frequent pullovers’, (sometimes government funded), and hear politicians push for higher revenues, I mean higher fines.

More money from the government seems to get more attention from law enforcement administrations, and more money from fines virtually guarantees plenty of politicians would show up to bash bus stop sign runners.

All this media activity with out mentioning that the number one vehicle in most years that run over more kids at school bus stops than all other vehicles combined is ...

the child’s own school bus.

Since school buses are everywhere, and also law enforcement is everywhere, if there is any truth that the school buses are running over more kids in most years, then would expect the motorists issue remains valid but secondary to other more effective life saving efforts.

Years ago when I drove school bus a police officer inadvertently ran my crossing lights. He called me later that same day and offered to write himself a ticket. I objected, in that no students were crossing at that stop, that the stop location was too active and caused too many distractions for motorists, and that I wanted no part of the politics side of school bus safety at bus stops.

Most annoying was that a few hundred feet away was a lot where I could drive off the street and drop these riders, easily eliminating interfering with heavy traffic some 190 times every school year.  

Claims of efficiency can reach a point where the so-called savings can endanger the safety of all involved. Over use of efficiency, and the transportation provider’s ‘own the road’ mentality seemed to dominate the safety of the children at that specific bus stop.

Yes, reminding all motorists to obey the school bus stop law is important, not disputing that. May be more effective when also mentioned throughout the year, in my opinion. Perhaps knowledge presented on billboards on occasion, and covered in publicized bus safety school projects from time to time -- not just after a death, and not just during School Bus Safety Week, but enforcing safe practices every day on the school buses.

Training the school bus drivers, and the bus riders how to share the road may help keep everyone safer and is perhaps more important than the hazards motorists are demonstrating when around the school buses.

School Bus Safety Week may include School Bus Driver Appreciation Week (or Day), sometimes recognized during the same week with an employee barbecue, employee safety awards, and thank you presentations from various officials. Some schools may honor transportation employees with small gifts and recognize their important part driving the buses and helping to keep kids safe. 


The mini-town includes realistic buildings that
represent Frisco area organizations, all created
at a 5/8th scale.
Some schools devote a few hours per day for an entire week or two to safety at school, on the school bus and other areas where safety is important. A few have various versions of the "Safety Town," a program started in 1937 by Mansfield (Ohio) Police Officer Frend C. Boals and Mrs. Ruth Robbins-Idle, where kids visit a mini-town and learn about home, school, school bus and other community safety training. School classes often include creative bus safety training, videos and class projects.


Elyria's Safety Town is FREE to all citizens of Elyria (Ohio) and surrounding areas through the cooperation of the Elyria Police Department, the Elyria Kiwanis Club, and other generous donors.

And some school districts do little or nothing

Some staff and management mentalities really believe their drivers are transporting cargo, sidetracked by trucker lingo, political issues, threatened by inappropriate special interest agendas, bullied by some hostile parents, or are indifferent - leave the kid on the porch and drive on!

When something goes wrong there is little to nothing addressed in industry media concerning the depth of how this anomaly actually happens. When addressed in the mainstream press school officials often blame the bus driver, and promise that it will never happen again.

So far this article has presented the average, the comfortable, the skeptical, the sarcastic, and the popular remedies in some cases. It can be scary to go in to our industry’s closet, a place where ghosts and goblins, and demons and gremlins threaten industry upheaval when alternative below average norms are brought out of the closet and discussed openly.

Some believe that parents and the general public can’t handle the truth anyway, whatever that truth might be. These may believe that parents must be kept in la la land or otherwise distracted to allow our country’s parents to remain ignorant, blissful, and not wanting the relevant offending bureaucrat fired on the spot. Seems also a lot of help available from some in the school bus industry to make sure that public ignorance continues to be the case.

If you are a parent reading this article and feel unnerved, just follow these simple Seattle Weekly Newspaper Safety Tips by Jonathan Kaminsky:

1. Don't have kids.

2. If you do have kids, never allow them to ride on a school bus.

3. As a general rule, be very fearful of everything.

We are going to break a rule involving one of the most important school bus related public safety events that happens every school year - School Bus Safety Week. We are going in to our industry’s closet without a warrant, find a few gremlins and put those issues under the spotlight to promote a new kind of School Bus Safety Week.

Averages to be ignored during our School Bus Safety Week - Average is irrelevant. Average hides the reality that too many are below average. A safe school bus is not an average school bus, but one where the transportation provider, school, school bus drivers, the riders, and parents always follow known safe practices at school bus stops.

Move school bus safety week to the same week that the school year begins, or a week or so before - A tough call when so much is already going on the first week of the new school year. Regardless, school bus safety is a critical part of returning to school. School bus safety promoted during the new school year’s student registration activities is an excellent time to also present last chance bus rider registration. Bus rider expectations can be provided at that time, a bus safety form signed by the parent, perhaps also signed by the rider, along with answering any questions parents may have.

Free materials for your newsletters,
 letters, memos and training materials
Of course after the school year begins bus registration usually continues, however, our School Bus Safety Week efforts does not allow a child to simply jump on the school bus ignorant of rider expectations while riding the bus and while at the bus stop. Provide clear up-front notice that any child refusing to follow the bus driver’s directions is subject to immediate removal from the school buses until fully resolved with the child’s parent, the child, and the bus driver.

School bus transportation providers, school bus drivers, and kids that believe they ‘own the roads’ hurt our industry and threaten the safety of all on the roads - The school bus is a huge hazard and a gigantic blind spot when stopped on a busy street or road, even when the stop sign and crossing lights are activated. Providers that ignore this reality are setting up all other bus stop safety elements for an eventual tragedy.

Rebecca McKinney's
issues. ~ St. Petersburg
Times
The illusion of the school district saving money by crossing children on dangerous roads is not an efficiency issue. It is a dangerous practice that creates tragedies and excessive liabilities. Where bus stop hazards are ignored by school bus drivers choosing to follow unsafe directives, then also any injury or death can become a huge liability. And sometimes a criminal issue.

In Clearwater, Florida, Becky McKinney (15) died in October 2004 after getting off her school bus. She was struck by a pickup truck as she tried to cross a busy six-lane highway with a raised median. In Florida only traffic going the same direction as the bus has to stop for the bus when children are getting on or off. It was when Becky stepped from the stopped northbound lanes into the still-moving southbound lanes that she was struck by the pick-up and thrown 20 feet. Her family had been lobbying the school district for years to change the bus stop prohibited by district policy because of the danger. The prohibited stop was first claimed a fluke. It was then discovered over 300 similar prohibited bus stops existed in that school district at the time of the child's death. (~ 2safeschools 2004 In Loving memory Archives.)

When a second child was killed after exiting a Pinellas school bus the drivers spoke out against officials blaming the bus drivers. Those blasted bus drivers were supposed to keep their mouths shut and let officials manage this tragic event everyone felt so bad about. If they would have just kept their mouths shut, a few drivers fired and a little more spin here and there, that administration and their spokesperson could have helped minimize the financial cost this event was to bring. Can't people understand that unsafe practices can save money if their ignorant bus drivers would just keep their mouths shut and just drive the blasted buses!

The McKinneys' Family settled Becky's death for 1.1 million. The district later settled with Ingoldsby's family for $1.2-million, and the Legislature approved an additional payment of $1.3-million.

Some communities have put a stop to school buses activating the crossing lights on busy streets when not crossing riders. In some communities the bus is required to stop curbside, the departing students that are crossing are expected to walk to a crosswalk and cross safely after the bus has departed.

Reasons one community banned the crossing lights
City of Regina Bylaw 9900, Section 28, prohibits the use of the school bus stop arm and flashing safety lights.  The authority to use of the safety lights and stop arm are given to municipalities because city streets have different characteristics than rural roads and roads in smaller communities.  Some reasons the safety lights and stop arms are NOT used in Regina:
  1. School buses in Regina load and unload passengers near intersections whenever one of the passengers needs to cross the street.  The students exit the school bus and stays on the sidewalk while the school bus drives away.  They proceed to the nearest intersection and cross the street taking all normal precautions they have been taught.  At the intersection, the pedestrian has the right-of-way and has a clear view of oncoming traffic.  The school bus is not blocking the visibility of the pedestrian.
  2. The use of stop arms and safety lights may promote the crossing of streets from behind parked vehicles and mid-block.
  3. 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.
  4. In most situations in Regina, school buses have a parking lane in which to stop.  They load and unload on the right hand side of the street.  Therefore, the stopping of traffic would not be necessary and could create more of a hazard than the degree of safety it provides. ~ Traffic Q & A with Sgt. Koroluk
It is nothing less than child neglect to allow the very young to cross the road unescorted - California law requires school bus drivers to activate the crossing lights, shut off the engine, secure the bus, leave the bus, and cross their riders. I agree with this ‘California Model,’ a genuine safety procedure that helps save lives.

At the very least an informed parent or adult designee ought to take hold of the child with a firm hand and cross these young. It is essential a parent be present to throw the child out of harms’ way in the event the school bus or a motorist is about to run them over.

Bus stop sign camera. - Suddenly denial and excuses of not having knowledge disappears rather quickly when a camera is automatically videoing the stop sign runner. In New Briton, Conn, “Officials were already aware the city was to be one of the first to implement a state law that better protects children by installing cameras on school buses to capture traffic violations. What they didn’t realize was the immediate results the cameras would provide.” A device that can help save precious lives, and a moneymaker that does not waste everyone’s time.

Fine kids - Law enforcement fine motorists that disobey bus stop safety laws. Police officers ought to also enforce predestrian crossing laws already in effect, to enforce and ticket older children that disobey the bus driver’s crossing directions, or otherwise act out reckless conduct at bus stops and while crossing at the bus stop. Include that police activity when out promoting School Bus Safety Week.

Immediate suspension from riding the school bus - Off the bus until resolved with the child’s parents’ ought to be the norm year round for all bus riders that disobey the bus driver’s directions, but that life saving policy is not the norm at too many facilities. The actual norm is that too many providers, bus drivers, and parents choose to neglect children’s’ safety at the bus stops.

Most important is to locate bus stops in off road boarding and departing areas when possible, and door-side whenever possible while boarding or dropping on the streets and roads.

Parents accepting a shared responsibility at school bus stops is another critical ingredient towards establishing and maintaining safer bus stops - Bus stops lacking parent supervision is a dangerous decision, one where gangs, fights, bullying, foolishness can easily get out of hand. It takes only 5-seconds for a predator to abduct a child from that child’s own driveway. (Booklet: Death at the school bus stop.)

Parents can form a school bus stop watch agreement with each other, their school and law enforcement, to collaborate a safety effort for maintaining adult supervised children’s' activities at the bus stops.

It is the final responsibility of the school bus driver to keep their precious lives safe, even to the point of termination for refusing a directive that potentially could endanger the child, in my opinion and in the opinion of arbitration - School bus drivers: You can get your job back, if you want it. Can you get a lost life back and no mater how much you want that?

Computer routing software and staff assumptions or indifference can bring unchangeable consequences - These days it is essential that school bus drivers are provided bus stop hazard training and the full authority by law to keep a child on board if anything seems amiss. Management styles that are sensitive to helping keep children safe on the buses honor this necessity with out a law forcing this safety remedy.

There was a period in this profession that I simply could not perform my duties honorably without an attorney on retainer, the union and arbitration as additional remedies.

In my case many years ago the arbitrator found in my favor:

Ruling Excerpt: There is no question that Mr. Kraemer was, according to his own statements, technically insubordinate during several occasions during the period beginning September 12, 1999 and ending November 5, 1999. There is no evidence that he was at anytime disruptive or disrespectful to supervisory authority. Nor is there any evidence showing that Mr. Kraemer attempted to conceal his actions.

Further, it is clear that Mr. Kraemer was not motivated by self interest, indolence or some other irrelevant consideration when he failed to strictly obey the route change. Rather, the evidence establishes that his conduct resulted from a true concern for the safety of a six-year-old student. His various interactions with (his supervisor), (the child's parents') and (the superintendent) establish this critical fact beyond any doubt. Whether or not the modification actually created an unsafe condition for the young student is of no moment. The elements of the rule were established - a genuine and reasonable belief based on objective factors. ...

The grievance was sustained, but seems that the bully boss, and sometimes an administrator (more subtle) was embarrassed that their attitude had been brought out of the closet and in to unfavorable lighting, seemed to hold ongoing resentments presenting itself in opportunities to subvert my workplace duties and my continued employment.

Would think more than a few school bus drivers have also had similar events, and for some that honored their dedication toward protecting precious life also experienced the wrath of a bully boss, and a hostile administration. 

I remained an on-task school bus driver, recently retiring but still supporting helping keep kids safe. There is no retirement age for helping keep kids safe.

These anomalies are gone, long retired or went elsewhere with their mentality following along after finding no home to remain at the current employer. Whatever damage these caused can heal over time. And, just a mention, and whatever objection might come up, our last two transportation directors, and the current administrators have no experience driving school bus, and are also not contaminated by school bus driver miss-training where that might apply.

I believe we have an abundance of honorable, decent, and dedicated school bus drivers, and also administrators and transportation staff in our industry, as well as an increasing mix of uncaring or undertrained school bus drivers hired by indifferent employers. The indifferent can harm our industry to no end. Where is the industry outcry, other than blaming the bus driver that indifference hired and trained?

Any bus driver that has the audacity to claim they care about kids, also better have the audacity to defend themselves and their fellows that get in to these sorts of situations. Not doing so puts these in the category of a trucker delivering packages to porches, a great job in another industry that pays well.

Trucker mentalities behind the wheel of a school bus and in other staff positions are not school bus drivers, are not school bus transportation staff, and both are not of the essential sorts needed in this industry. They are afflictions on children, their community, and this industry.

Out there on the road the bus driver oftentimes is the only adult on board. The sort needed in this industry are skilled in leadership and fellowship. Blind followship is not essential to this industry’s success.

The true school bus driver must do what he or she must to follow a shared responsibility to help keep precious lives safe. Never, ever call kids cargo again, precious cargo or otherwise.

And if the boss does not like you school bus drivers doing what you are supposed to be doing, well, perhaps that boss needs to find a new job in the precious cargo delivery industry.

Oh yes, mustn’t forget this School Bus Safety Week Tip for all vehicles on our nation’s streets and roads, including the school buses:

Obey the school bus stop law!


Bus stop law t-shirt

Report: 2010 school bus related deaths - (Updated 10-05-2011, pdf download)
A useful document when wanting a quick reference to deaths while discussing bus stop safety and when looking at updating school bus safety policies. 

The Pounds Perspective  - For 2 years running, Georgia has led the nation in child fatalities - according to the "National School Bus Loading and Unloading Survey," performed by the Kansas State Department of Education - School Bus Safety Education Unit (see informational links).  The creation of this website was triggered when - after reporting a potential child endangerment issue - the author's sister was fired from her job as a School Bus Driver for the Morgan County School system - in Madison, Georgia.

Student lay down in front of school bus - and would not move impeding the bus. The student was charged with interfering with the operation of a school bus, according to the police report. Glad to see law enforcement write this child up. It is one of safety areas schools are way too lax with.

How hazard lights can be used for Mich. bus stops - Some Michigan school districts are making use of hazard-light school bus stops, which can keep traffic flowing in cases where children don’t cross the street. Unlike red-light stops, hazard-light stops don’t require other motorists to stop. Michigan law allows the hazard-light stops when certain conditions are met.

School Bus Safety Week Raises Awareness - It starts with arriving at the bus stop five minutes ahead of pick-up time, to ensure they're not in a hurry. They should stand five giant steps, or ten feet, away from the curb while waiting. Children are instructed to wait until the bus comes to a complete stop, with the driver opening the doors and signaling an okay, before attempting to board. In Nebraska, state law does not require seat belts on buses. Riders are urged to stay seated at all times while the bus is in motion, and to keep noise and distractions down to a minimum so the driver can focus on the road ahead.

Schedule, benefits attract school bus drivers to the job - It isn't a revolving-door job. Transportation officials with all three Treasure Coast school districts say they typically have no difficulty recruiting drivers and hardly ever have to replace or fire drivers for any reason. Full-time positions are filled by hiring substitute drivers, who want the full-time benefits.

Fight underscores difficulties school bus drivers face - Considering the chaos that erupted on the bus, it's no wonder there are more than 100 openings for bus drivers in the Hillsborough County School District.

California School Buses Study Material for Supplemental School bus Written Test - A great many kids escape death when struck by the school bus or a motorist at the bus stop, some with very little or no serious injury. We call these 'lucky', and nothing is really learned. We call the kids that lose a foot or other body part, or are visibly scared up, or suffered brain damage as a result of a crash event, 'lucky to be alive.'  Not all of these kids feel lucky. Plenty feel angry, sad, or different. These can eventually become targets of bullying. Suicide then becomes an option, one that has surpassed teen car crash deaths in our country. Our industry does not count suicide as a school bus death, although the death can be related to what happened while riding the school bus. A life-altering injury may include an identifiable vulnerability, which in the course of things can then eventually attract bullies. To neglect children, especially when allowing the very young to cross the road in front of a school bus unescorted can not be considered different from child neglect in the practical sense. Yet, all states except California allow this form of child neglect.  I can find no excuse for this level of child neglect at school bus stops. If anyone can, I would like to hear it. Most interested in hearing feedback from California school bus drivers although anyone is welcomed to respond to this issue.

Download Your State CDL or School Bus Manual

More school bus related stories at our Facebook Page.

5 comments:

  1. Georgia leads the nation in Child Deaths and injuries relative to the Loading/Unloading zone (school bus stop). Please sign my Petition at https://www.change.org/petitions/child-safety-school-bus-transportation?utm_campaign=twitter_link&utm_medium=twitter&utm_source=share_petition
    Access my website for more information: www.ThePoundsPerspective.net. Thank you!
    Ray Pounds

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you Ray for posting this effort to help keep kids safe. Your effort has been included on my Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/2safeschools

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank YOU James - I've recently had to utilize a different petition site due to some Change.org signers reporting back a "liberal slant" to use of the petition site. I now have the petition @ GoPetition @ the following URL: http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/implement-and-enforce-child-safety-programs-in-georgia.html

      Delete
    2. Not sure what you mean by "liberal slant." I tend to be conservative or tradition in some areas but can lean to stricter or more open, depending on the issue. I hated it when all sorts of Parties invaded the 'Independent' slant and fragmented that political arena. Three parties were more than adequate to find a home, until special self-interests demanded a European political stage. A party divided can not win, certainly not like the united can win. I hate unions that engage their teachers or school bus members to strike over pay. Too distractive from helping keep kids safe, especially in the education arena, and it can take a long time to recover lost wages from a 10-cent pay increase. The answer I can accept is arbitration and the courts -- not the sidewalk. Regardless, I like unions that help protect their members from employer abuse, and can agree to a wildcat strike when an actual workplace and/or schoolplace safety issue. I hate school bus drivers required to hold a CDL to drive a single frame school bus, similar in size to motorhomes and fire trucks where the driver is not required to have that useless money wasting credential. The S-Endorsement, air brakes, and other school bus driving related training behind the wheel and otherwise are more than adequate when actually done. Your effort is worthy in my opinion, yet that alone does not guarantee success. People are somewhat odd in that a lot of money is wasted on what is not needed while what is actually needed can be utterly ignored until death and civil suits overwhelms an unsafe practice. I signed your petition and will add a link to my Facebook forum. Glad you brought it to my attention.

      Delete
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