No, this is not the solution to kids’ getting run over…

5 minute read

November 4, 2018, 2:59 PM

Last night, Elyse shared a photo with me from Facebook depicting a school bus making a stop way out in the middle of the road:

Photo: Dana Shifflett Farrar

The photo was captioned, “With the string of school bus accidents, I loved how this bus driver intentionally placed itself [sic] in the middle this morning.  At first I wondered what they were doing, then I realized the kids had to cross the road.  Well done, sir.”  I don’t know where this specific location is, but considering that the person who posted it is from Shenandoah, Virginia, this likely depicts a location in Shenandoah County, Virginia, and as such is most likely a Shenandoah County school bus.  This was likely done in reaction to recent news stories where children have been injured while going to school.

I shared this on my own timeline, saying, “Despite what the original poster said, this is crazy dangerous. The words ‘unsafe operation’ come to mind.”  While the first person to comment got it, most of the responses that I got were fairly predictable:

“Unfortunately, that’s how it’s done these days!!!”

It’s better for them to hit the bus than the kids imo.”

“Best way, police cars following every buses”

The problem with these responses were that it assumes that the school bus can never be wrong.  I’ve never understood that point of view, that school buses and their drivers are some sort of angels because they’re driving kids to and from school.  It’s the idea that the school bus can do anything that it wants and be in the right because “think of the children”.  In reality, we all share the road, including school buses.  While it’s okay to make certain allowances for children, since they may not yet have sufficient judgment to safely navigate the road, there are still other road users who have places to go.

I see two major issues with this stop.  The first one is one that the first commenter immediately noticed: the curve ahead.  The bus is stopped just short of a blind curve, so depending on the normal speed of oncoming traffic, a driver going at normal speed may not be able to stop in time to avoid a collision with the bus.  That could endanger the safety of the driver in a car coming around the curve who might not be expecting a school bus to be blocking the lane, as well as that of the occupants of the bus in the event that the car driver can’t stop in time.  Not a good situation to have happen.  Generally speaking, it is a very poor idea to stop in the middle of oncoming traffic.

The second issue is about the positioning of the bus on the road with respect to the traffic in the lane that the bus is ostensibly in.  Being positioned in such a way so as to occupy parts of both lanes, they have left enough of an opening to the bus’s right to allow a vehicle to pass without having to leave the road.  See for yourself:

The school bus photo, with my Honda HR-V to scale, showing that there is enough room for a vehicle to pass the school bus on the right

I have added an image of my Honda HR-V, and scaled it to match the photo.  There is reasonable distance between the school bus’s open door and the side of my car, and my car’s right-side tires are still on the pavement.  In other words, there is enough space to allow someone to pass the school bus on the right while it is stopped in this position.  While you’ve effectively closed off the left side of the vehicle (though opening yourself up to other dangers already discussed), you’ve opened up the right side of the vehicle, which is the side that children directly interact with.  The right side of the vehicle is also generally harder to see around than the left side, as the driver’s seat is on the vehicle’s left side.  For a driver waiting for a stopped school bus, this is a tempting move to make, and some can’t resist, especially since many school bus drivers leave the red lights on for a period of time after all children have entered the bus.  Drivers coming from behind have no idea whether there are children crossing in front of the bus, or whether all children are on board and the bus is still sitting.  It is the responsibility of the bus driver to account for people who have no patience for school buses, and who will find the first opportunity to pass them, legally or not.  That means ensuring that your right side is closed off, and that children are able to step onto the vehicle directly from the curb (or equivalent).  After all, like I said in 2015, the red lights and stop arm on a school bus are ultimately just decorative.  If you’re relying solely on your red lights to make a safe stop, then that stop is not safe.  The red lights are extra insurance, used in conjunction with a properly executed stop that ensures that all passengers can board safely.

What we’re seeing here is ultimately the product of poor route design.  The driver is attempting to stop all traffic by using the bus to physically block oncoming traffic in order to pick up kids who need to cross the street to board.  The best solution is to redesign the route in order to ensure that no one has to cross these sorts of roads, so that every stop is a same-side stop.  But that requires extra planning effort, which costs money.  I like to think that safety is well worth the added cost, but apparently not everyone agrees with that.

Meanwhile, I love the usual response that I get when I cite my earlier Journal entry about school buses: “You should leave earlier!”  I do leave early.  I give myself an hour to go 13 miles to work.  There are two schools on my route to work, lots of neighborhoods, and much of my commute is along two-lane roads.  It is not hard to get stuck behind a school bus making multiple stops, which can easily add ten or more minutes to my commute.  That amount of time is not insignificant, and is on top of having to deal with all of the other people that add time to my route.  On a good day, I get to work about fifteen minutes before my on-duty time.  A school bus cuts it a whole lot closer, but I make it.  What I find insulting about the “you should leave earlier” crowd is that it says that the school bus’s time is more important than mine, and so I should be required to wait.  I have places to go, too, that have nothing to do with school buses or kids.

In any case, we as a country need to have a serious discussion about how we treat the way that school buses interact with the other drivers, and how students interact with school buses.  It’s clear that the status quo isn’t working, and relies too much on voluntary compliance by other road users to ensure a safe stop.  Likewise, exploiting the problem for money by mounting cameras on buses is no solution, either.  I’ve made suggestions before, and they still seem valid, though I would add that routes should be designed so that no one ever crosses the street.

Drive safely, everyone.