Caryn Marshall Wilder
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September 4, 2013
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Give school buses the ‘brakes’ they deserve

It’s back to school in Nevada County, and that means the big, yellow buses are rolling through our neighborhoods and surface streets every day. A “Back to School” section of The Union on Aug. 10 featured a very informative article by Jennifer Terman regarding school bus safety, that I hope parents read before tearing open the pages in search of their child’s bus schedule.

It occurred to me that there are many motorists in our community who might not have read this article for various reasons.

I’m a local school bus driver, and from what I’ve witnessed, this is a topic that definitely needs more attention.

In my opinion, the general motoring public sees a school bus and automatically thinks that the bus driver has everything under control, so they can continue on their way, oblivious to what may really be going on around that bus.

Their brain equates the iconic yellow school bus with safety, when what they should really train their brain to do is to consider the school bus as they would a fire truck with its sirens blaring! “Look out! Danger! Slow down and pay attention!”

Since school buses were introduced in 1827 — a horse-drawn version — the industry has worked tirelessly to improve safety in, on, and around the bus.

Today, school buses are considered to be 40 times safer than your family car.

The laws pertaining to school buses vary from state to state, and California has the strictest on record; all have been enacted to continually improve the safety of our passengers.

All newer buses in California are equipped with seat belts; however, ask any child you know to tell you honestly if they wear their seat belt while riding the bus. I can tell you that most of them don’t.

I don’t have time to forcefully buckle 68 children into their seats, but it is the law, so please, parents, insist that your students wear theirs.

The most confusing law concerning school buses is the “Stop When Red Lights Flash” law. This sentence is painted on the rear of the bus in large black letters.

It doesn’t say stop for five seconds, and if you don’t see any kids, you can go.

It doesn’t say hurry up and pass before the stop arm comes out.

It doesn’t say it’s OK for you because you drive an expensive car and are therefore exempt from such mundane bureaucracy. It means “stop,” plain and simple.

More fatalities are caused during the loading and unloading procedures than at any other time. Children, no matter what their ages, are unpredictable and inattentive.

In California, drivers are required to escort preschool students through eighth-graders across the street. I have found through a hair-raising experience that lots of parents think escorting is only required in the afternoon.

Routes are designed to eliminate morning escorts, but they are necessary occasionally and are required even when an adult is with the child.

Currently, the fine for running the flashing red lights of a school bus is $680 and one point on your driving record.

From what I’ve experienced on South Auburn Street and Dog Bar Road, there must be some very wealthy people out there because they run them all day, every day.

Know this, people: we watch, we write down your license plate number, and we will turn you in to the CHP. Wake up and wise up, folks. Children’s lives are at stake here.

This is the procedure: You see the bus up ahead. Two hundred feet before the bus stops, the amber warning lights will flash. One hundred feet before the stop, the turn signal indicator will activate.

When the bus pulls over and stops, the red lights will flash immediately, and the stop arm will swing out. The entrance door will open, and the kids will enter the bus. By law, the bus cannot move until every student is properly seated. The red lights will stay on until this occurs. You must wait.

When every student is seated, the red lights will be deactivated, the stop arm will swing back in and the left-turn signal indicator will be activated. The bus will then leave the curb. Then you may proceed.

We try hard to do this quickly, but it’s not always possible.

Please try to refrain from saluting me with your middle finger when you finally get an opportunity to pass.

Remember, train your brain. Stay alert in the danger zone.

School bus accidents make news. With your cooperation, we can avoid becoming a headline.

Caryn Marshall Wilder lives in Nevada City.

... the general motoring public sees a school bus and automatically thinks that the bus driver has everything under control, so they can continue on their way, oblivious to what may really be going on around that bus.


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The Union Updated Sep 5, 2013 08:11PM Published Sep 7, 2013 10:37AM Copyright 2013 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.