I live in an area of Southern California where large trucks and SUVs abound. In a residential area, you can’t go two blocks without spotting one or the other. As someone who drives a relatively small car (a Volkswagen Beetle), I’m often apprehensive around these vehicles because many of the drivers are aggressive and they whip in and out of lanes like they own the road.
Moreover, my neighborhood comprises several blocks of apartment complexes. I’m fortunate enough to have underground parking at my complex, but some of the tenants in other buildings don’t have designated parking. This means that cars line the streets that surround my building and make it difficult for guests to find parking. My boyfriend has a Toyota Tundra (no, he’s not an aggressive driver) and he usually has to come over by a certain time to find a spot that can accommodate his truck.
The challenges that he and I sometimes face while driving our cars got me thinking about the obstacles that school bus drivers encounter when operating a bus. Motorists who run stop arms is the first thing that comes to mind. Perhaps an extension of this is dealing with inattentive or inconsiderate motorists. SBF
’s 2008 Driver Management Survey (see the April/May issue, pg. 20) found that 12.8 percent of respondents felt that inattentive motorists are their greatest challenge inside or outside of the bus.
I’ve also learned that school bus drivers can get in a jam when trying to maneuver a bus. In SBF
’s article on safe loading zone practices
, Michele Kuhne, a school bus driver for Greater Johnstown (N.Y.) School District, said she felt that it’s important for schools to consider the length of a school bus and how much room is needed for a driver to turn when designing a loading zone.
To support her point, Kuhne relayed 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 said.
’s Safety Issues and Drivers’ Concerns forum
, another school bus driver described a similar challenge he faced while on a route.
He wrote, “On my summer route, I have a stop where I have to back up my 38-foot bus and make a left turn back onto the access road. I hate backing up when there are obstacles, such as unattended parked cars and trucks close to my bus. Today, after unloading two students, I pulled forward and began to make a left turn. As I was watching my bus through the right mirror, I saw that a red service truck was inches from getting scraped by my tail swing. I stopped fast and missed a near scrape... I actually thought I bumped the truck — it was that close.
"I put the bus in neutral, applied the parking brake and checked to see if there was damage. My heart [was] in my throat the whole time. I could not leave the bus (I had students that were still on) so I just peeked out the window and I saw no damage on the right side of the bus … Still, [I] obsessed over the 'what ifs,' and the 'How can I be sure' thoughts. I hopped back into the driver’s seat and became Mr. Bus Driver again. I did a few back-ups and pulling forwards and I eventually was able to clear the left turn, which was even harder because of the red service truck which was parked close to my bus.
"I try and be a good, professional driver every day when I am in the bus but it is instances like this one that make me feel like I need to be better — I keep replaying this incident in my head. I feel like I could have maneuvered the bus differently so I could have avoided a near scrape."
He then went on to ask other forum members for advice on what he should do if he’s in this type of situation again. One person wrote, “When our drivers … feel they can't safely get around a vehicle, we have always called the boss. [The boss has] called the police, who then find the owner and make them move the vehicle.”
I’m curious — have you or your bus drivers been in a situation similar to that described above? If so, how did you or they respond to it? I’m also interested to learn about other challenges drivers face in operating school buses and how they’ve dealt with them. Leave a comment below or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
| posted on Friday, August 06, 2010 1:30 PM