The safest ride to school | GUEST OPINION

Arlington Public Schools operates a fleet of 50 buses, to travel an average 3,347 miles each day to transport 2,040 students from the far reaches of our district: north to the Skagit County line, west past Silvana, east two thirds of the way to Darrington, and south to Getchel Road.

Nationwide, school buses are part of the biggest transportation system in the country transporting 10 billion children daily. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that school buses reduce private auto transportation by 17.3 million cars a year in our nation saving 2.3 billion gallons of fuel. The number one reason to ride a school bus is safety. According to the NHTSA, schools buses are the safest means of transportation to school.

The safety of our riders begins at the bus stop. Bus stops are chosen for student safety. Along busy country roads, bus stops are placed at the ends of driveways and intersecting streets. This may be frustrating for motorist but is necessary where a safe walking path is not available. In urban areas, bus stops are placed throughout neighborhoods where there is plenty of room for students to safely stand and wait for the bus. At bus stops, students are required to stay 10 feet back from the roadway. Our bus drivers educate students on the proper procedures for staying safe while waiting for the bus.

The next step in student safety is the proper loading and unloading of children. Bus drivers are monitoring potential hazards as they approach each stop. The drivers train the students to wait for their hand signal before approaching the bus and loading. This is done for children who are crossing a street or loading door side. When the driver is certain that all traffic is stopped and it is safe for the student to climb on the bus, the driver signals the children to load. Once the students have boarded the bus, drivers wait until all students are safely seated before moving the bus. Bus drivers work with students to ensure that they remain safely seated until they arrive at their destination. When buses are stopped at railroad crossings, the entire bus is silenced (no one talks, fans, heaters and radios are silenced), the driver opens their window and the door to use their sight and hearing to ensure no trains are coming. These steps are all critical to keep our riders safe.

Our drivers have been trained by our district and licensed by the state. In addition to their initial training and licensing, all bus drivers receive supplemental training at the start of each school year. This year, our drivers received training in student management, bullying, vehicle accident procedures and changes to laws and regulations. These trainings are provided by the state for all school bus drivers.

In addition to their training and licensing requirements, bus drivers are required to pass a physical examination by a physician, maintain first-aid certification, and are subject to both pre-employment drug and random drug testing and alcohol testing. School bus drivers also undergo agility and lifting tests each year to demonstrate that they have the ability to lead and assist children in evacuating a school bus in an emergency.

Our three mechanics are dedicated to keeping our school buses properly maintained and safe. Each year the Washington State Patrol (WSP) conducts two thorough evaluations of our bus fleet. Each bus is placed on a lift while WSP Commercial Vehicle Officers inspect brakes, bearings, steering, exhaust, chassis, lights, and emergency equipment as well as road test the breaks. Our buses have an outstanding inspection record. We recently received recognition from State School Superintendent Randy Dorn and Washington State Patrol Chief John R. Batiste for our outstanding inspection reports. Our mechanics and drivers work together to ensure that our buses are safe to transport children.

Our safety measures go beyond establishing safe stops, training our drivers and maintaining our fleet. Bus drivers train their riders to stay safely seated, treat other riders with respect and what to do in an emergency situation. Students are taught how to use the two-way radio, emergency brakes, fire extinguisher and all of the emergency exits. Each year students participate in three school bus evacuation drills. In these drills students assist each other in using an emergency exit.

Our Transportation Departments mission is to “Safely transport our students in a caring and professional manor.” We transport the most “Precious Cargo” every day and take pride in what we do.

Cheryl Power is the Transportation Supervisor for Arlington Public Schools and can be reached at 360-435-1268 or via email at cpower@asd.wednet.edu.


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