As the first day of school quickly approaches, there’s one topic that may be of particular importance to students who will be attending for the very first time.
The school bus.
In the early hours of the morning, and running late into the afternoon, every local public school district offers a bussing services for their in-district students, but as numerous amount of big yellow buses prepare to hit the road, the rules involved when engaging these vehicles are important to keep in mind.
Belding Area Schools Director of Transportation Kamie Jakeway, along with her many bus drivers, have been working to make sure everything runs smoothly on the first day of school Tuesday.
Her message to parents, and anyone who is on the road during hours of bus operation, is to be properly informed about how buses operate when picking up and dropping off students.
According to Jakeway, the most common occurrence that affects most drivers is the “red light stop,” in which a bus’ overhead lights are activated prior to coming to a stop.
“Overhead red lights, you treat them just like a stoplight, like a stop sign,” she said. “It’s the law to stay back 20 feet from the bus when those lights are flashing. Always be prepared to stop and keep your distance when following a school bus on the road.”
The lights initially begin flashing a cautionary yellow, and Jakeway said rather than attempting to pass a bus when these lights come on, commuters need to slow down and prepare to stop.
Some bus stops, however, will not stop traffic.
Hazard light stops have become more common on larger roads such as M-44, M-91 and M-57, which offer areas where buses can pull completely off of the road to pick up and drop off students.
As bus hazard lights are activated and the bus pulls off of the road, traffic may continue without interference from the bus.
“Traffic can continue to flow in these situation, and studies have shown that’s a lot safer than trying to control traffic on these busy roads,” Jakeway said. “Once traffic clears, the drivers can continue on their routes.”
She added that anytime students need to cross a road, a “red light stop” will be initiated.
A mobile classroom
As many first time riders may be nervous as they take their first ride on a public school bus, Jakeway said parents and students alike should take some comfort in knowing that buses are treated as an extension of the classroom, with rules of etiquette similar to those in a classroom or household and bus drivers who develop good relationships with students.
“Just trust in your driver, as they go through extensive training to make sure that your kids will be safe,” she said. “If anyone ever has any questions, we have an open line of communication, but we encourage the students to listen to their drivers as they would listen to their teachers or parents.”
Jakeway said the general rule of thumb when preparing to ride a bus is to make sure you are at your bus stop about 10 minutes before the bus is expected to arrive and to stay 10 to 15 feet away from the road.
If there is a need to talk to a bus driver regarding an issue, speaking directly to the driver as they are on their route is not the best option.
“If you have any questions or concerns, we recommend that people call the school district’s bus garage,” Jakeway said. “The bus stop is not a good time to have a conversation with the driver, as kids are getting on and off, traffic is being held up, and there is a schedule that has to be maintained.”
Jakeway said her department has an open flow of communication with all of its bus drivers when they are on the road.
Extra caution during winter
Tammi Richmond has been a bus driver for one year, and while she loves her job and developing friendly relationships with the students she transports, the job offers its strenuous moments as well.
Richmond said Michigan winters can be especially challenging for drivers, and stressed that drivers reflect on those challenges if and when they come upon a school bus in the winter months.
“I really do enjoy the job, but it does offer challenges,” she said. “This past winter was especially bad. There were some days when you are taking the back roads at 10 miles per hour. Sometimes it can be nerve-racking, driving the kids through a blizzard, but you’ve got to get them to school and back home.”
Despite the challenges and responsibility involved in driving a bus full of students, Richmond said the job is very rewarding and is looking forward to the start of school next week.
“The interaction with the kids, getting to know them on a personal level, that’s what I like the most,” she said. “We try to make the experience as friendly as we can for the students. We’ll take care of them.”