Seven Tips for First-Time School Bus Drivers
Becoming a school bus driver is a calling, not a job. It requires a person to serve many roles: a teacher, a parent, a chauffeur, a protector. It’s a major responsibility to drive any vehicle, but the stakes are higher for a 14-ton vehicle, not to mention a school bus full of school children. You’ve trained for your first route, but secondhand knowledge won’t teach you everything. Veterans offer these tips for first-time school bus drivers so that you’ll be even better prepared.
1. Start With Self Care
When the oxygen masks drop on an airplane, any flight attendant will tell you that adults need to put their masks on before helping younger ones. The metaphor applies to school bus drivers, too. You cannot do your job unless you take care of yourself first. Obviously, you should do it for yourself, but you also owe it to your passengers to be in top condition. This means:
- Avoiding alcohol and drugs that could impair your motor skills the next day.
- Getting at least seven hours of sleep at night.
- Eating the right “fuel” for your body.
- Staying in good physical shape.
- Leaving issues and emotional problems at home.
2. Inspect Your Bus
You and your school bus are partners. If you can spend time with it before your first day, get to know it inside and out. You’ll be conducting an inspection with a checklist every morning, it’s best to allow yourself a little extra time to do it when you’re not in a hurry to stay on schedule. You’ll have a lot of little things to check, but don’t forget the basics, like:
- The bus is clean.
- The gas tank is full.
- The seats are in good repair.
- The tires are at the right pressure level.
- The crossing arms, stop arms, video cameras, air-conditioning system, GPS, lights, and wheelchair lift are all functional.
3. Practice Your Route
It’s going to be difficult to get comfortable driving your bus while adhering to a strict route schedule. But if anything takes longer than scheduled, those minutes will add up quickly. Soon, you’ll be hearing from the school, your supervisor, and even the parents. So a dry run is more than worth the effort. Drive your route at the same time of day that you’ll need to do it your first day so that you’re familiar with traffic patterns. If you have any concerns that you won’t have enough time to get to school before the bell, talk with the Transportation Director.
Locate all the correct addresses and bus stops before you have to introduce the chaos of actual child passengers into the mix. Routing software isn’t foolproof, and things change. Road repairs cause detours. Overgrown foliage can obscure signage. One of the best tips for first-time school bus drivers is to learn the route initially without any other distractions.
4. Keep Eyes Moving
You’ll remember from getting your driver’s license as a teenager that you should constantly be checking different mirrors and blind spots. When you’re driving a bus, there are a lot more places to look. You should be moving your focus about every two seconds to stay safe with constantly changing conditions. You’ll be watching traffic, assessing cars that might violate the stop arm, navigating construction, looking for pedestrians, monitoring passengers, keeping an eye on the video screen, glancing over the considerable network of mirrors, and more.
Soon, it will be second nature to you, but it takes practice. Just when you have it down, you might feel a tug on your sleeve from a passenger. You’ll also need to get used to looking well down the road for the big picture. With a much bigger vehicle than a standard car, you’ll need to adjust your approach much sooner for any problems ahead. One of a bus driver’s biggest challenges is maintaining a cushion of space on all sides of the vehicle. It involves tweaking your speed so that you’ll always have enough reaction time if there’s a surprise on the road. A bike could cut in front of you, a family of ducks could begin to cross the street… Your best defense is to give the bus some room to breathe.
5. Learn To Listen
You will have to remain calm, even in the midst of chaos. You can’t impatiently wave off a student’s question or a parent’s instructions because you have a schedule to follow. Many kids have difficulty commuting on a bus, and you can gain some valuable advice about how to ease their transition. In time, you’ll know if a child is just a chatterbox, but until then, you’ll have to absorb every word. Bus drivers are also mandated reporters who must keep an eye out for children who may be suffering abuse. Develop your observational skills because communication isn’t always verbal.
6. Drive Defensively
Every driver learns early to watch out for other drivers, but a school bus driver can’t ever let down their guard. You are protecting the most precious cargo there is. Assume that the bus is invisible at all times. Believe it or not, even with all the flashing lights, the bright yellow paint job, and the hulking size, many distracted drivers are still oblivious to school buses. In bad weather, it’s even more common. You might not have a siren-like an ambulance—although that’s not a bad idea—but you can do everything in your power to be noticeable in traffic. Make sure you’re signaling properly, and don’t let a child leave your bus unless you know it’s completely safe. If you suspect another vehicle isn’t paying attention, a light tap of the horn is an essential tool.
7. Trust Your Bus
If you do your job inspecting, maintaining, and repairing your bus, you’ll become an unbeatable team. School buses are the safest vehicles on the road, but that’s not by chance. Your district needs to have a good relationship with an established, reputable bus dealer who’s more concerned about safety than making a sale. At National Bus Sales, we’ve been instrumental in getting kids to school for more than 30 years. When you need a new bus, we can show you the latest technology and give you our honest opinions on models. If you’re new at this, we have plenty of experience to share.