February 22, 2019

Even More School Bus Thoughts

Time is rushing by and I'm into my fifth month of driving a school bus. The changes are subtle, but noticeable. I am mostly over my fear of reversing. I still don't enjoy it, but I don't get nervous. Recently, I had to reverse about a third of a mile along a country road, around two corners and down a hill, when my only available turnaround point was not plowed out and was too full of snow for me to safely use. I wouldn't want to do it on a regular basis, but I did it and that pretty much put the final nail into my fear of reversing.

Despite my bad memory, I have both of my current routes memorized. I drive Blue in the morning and Purple at night and know where to go, when to be there and am making good progress learning the names of my students. For some reason I remember more naughty student names than good ones.

Having driven for far too many years on the Madison Beltline I've seen my share of bad American driving, but at the helm of a school bus I've had a grandstand seat to witness some awful driving. (Ok, not as bad as the Russians, but pretty bad. Search on Youtube for Russian dashcam footage, but be warned that it's scary stuff.) There are three main things that people are getting wrong. First, they are failing to understand the warning and stop lights on the school bus. I'm pretty sure that's in the driving test around here, but it feels like most drivers skipped class that day.

School buses in the United States have two sets of lights. The lower lights, those at the same approximate level as the main headlights and the upper lights near the top of the bus. The lower lights are exactly the same as all other road vehicles: headlights, indicators, brake lights and reversing lights. They all mean exactly what they mean in every other vehicle and there are no legal mandates concerning them. The upper lights are specific to U.S. school buses and are known as the student lights. There are set of amber (sometimes called yellow) lights and a set of red lights. These lights flash when in operation, are important and under penalty of law must be obeyed by all other road vehicles. The flashing amber student lights mean that the bus is getting ready to slow down and stop for a student pickup or dropoff and so you should start slowing down and be prepared to stop. When the flashing red student lights mean that the bus has student activity (getting on, getting off and possibly crossing the road) and you must stop and wait at least 20 feet away until the red lights stop flashing. There are expensive fines for not stopping for a school buses' student red lights, so please do your wallet a favor and stop.

The second problem is not leaving enough room for the school bus. School buses are smaller than an 18 wheel long-haul truck, but we're bigger than nearly everything else. Many drivers at junctions have a tendency to position themselves near the middle of the road and past the stop line even when they see a school bus and then wonder why we look at them funny if we're trying to turn onto the road they are on. School buses cannot perform a perfect right-angled turn, so we need drivers to leave us some extra space. I would be lying if I said that I didn't chuckle inwardly when I see a drivers eyes get really big as I turn to go past them and they realize that they didn't leave me much space. I watch what I'm doing very carefully and if I can get through then I'll just keep going, otherwise I'll stop and look at them until they take the hint to move over or back up.

Third and finally, for today anyway, is the failure to stay out of the bus lanes at the schools. All of our schools in town have clearly marked and signposted bus lanes and they are supposed to be free of cars. Nearly every morning, I find myself having to go around or wait for cars driving into the bus lane so they can let their precious student out a few feet closer to the door than if they used the regular dropoff points. For some reason, the local Middle School has the worst offenders. This is dangerous for the students because the students can not be guaranteed to be safe if the bus isn't moving, as there is now a chance that some impatient, and likely obnoxious, parent may plow into them causing an accident.

This winter's weather has been harsh so far and as I write this we have nine snow days on the books. The students love snow days, but remember that the bus drivers don't get paid if they aren't driving. Thank goodness my lovely bride has a job!

Tags: Personal Big Yellow School Bus