The loading and unloading process of school buses is one of many factors involved in student transportation that has received a second look lately.

“Passenger loading and unloading is the nucleus of what school bus drivers do,” says Sabine Konrad with Visalia, CA, Unified School District. “Our precious cargo is exposed to the highest risk of getting injured — or worse — during this procedure. We cannot allow that to happen.”  This district has been using the escort system (see #7 below) since the 1950’s and has not had a documented death since it was implemented.

Here are some of the most critical steps a driver should take in this process to ensure students are safe as they load and unload the school bus.

  1. Stay Focused.   Don’t let distractions take your focus off safety at any point in the loading and unloading process, which can be the most dangerous step in transporting students.
  2. Enforce Safe Student Behavior.   Drivers should watch students and ensure they are not playing around while getting on or off the bus, and are using the handrail to avoid falling.
  3. Be Consistent.   Each step has an important purpose, and it is critical that the procedure is executed the same way every time so as not to confuse students or the motoring public.
  4. Open The Door At The Right Time.   Open the entrance door only when all traffic has come to a complete stop. When loading, the opening of the door signals to students that it’s safe to approach the bus. When unloading, it lets them know that it’s safe to leave their seat and move to exit the bus.
  5. Time The Flashing Light System Properly.   Activate the amber warning lights and tap the brake lights at 200 feet. Activate the right turn signal at 100 feet, stop no closer than 12 feet from the students and within 18 inches of and parallel to the curb.  Then, turn on the red light warning system.
  6. Keep An Eye Out For Accessory Hazards.   Be aware of drawstrings, jackets, backpacks and backpack straps, scarves, belts, or any other loose items that could get caught in the door.
  7. Take Command When Escorting Students Off Bus.   Drivers must act with authority during the escort process. Right after leaving the stepwell, they need to hold up the stop sign to stop motorists who ignore or do not see the stop arm or flashing lights.
  8. Position Is Critical.   The driver must have a clear view of the crossing students and traffic at all times; that can only be done when standing sideways. The driver’s body should face the crossing students while the stop sign is facing traffic.
  9. Look For Hazards.   Look under the bus before entering to make sure there are no potential hazards or children underneath.
  10. Check Mirrors.   Drivers should be aware of blind spots, using all mirrors to the fullest extent possible, and lean forward in the driver’s seat, moving side to side to eliminate blind spots and ensure the street is clear of traffic, students, and hazards.
  11. Be Mindful Of The Danger Zone.   While loading and unloading, do not move the bus if students are within 12 feet of it on any side. Additionally, back up only with assistance from a spotter when absolutely necessary. Instead, go around the block, if possible.
  12. Count Students Multiple Times.   Drivers should get a student count as they see them approaching the stop, get on or off the bus, and leave the danger zone.
  13. Check, Check Again.   After boarding the bus, the driver must check the right mirror zone before closing the entrance door. Next, they should perform a five-count mirror check to ensure there are no approaching students, all students are seated, no students or hazards are in front of the bus, traffic is still stopped, and check the right mirror zone again for any approaching students.

With school starting soon, this list is a “good to know” to ensure all students are safe at all times.