It is critical that school bus drivers not only care for and protect the students riding the bus, but also avoid collisions with bicyclists and other vulnerable road users outside of the bus.
Just before the start of the 2018-19 school year, as part of an annual in-service series of meetings to prepare for the coming school year, the Kalamazoo (Mich.) Public Schools transportation department held a symposium to address the issue of school buses and bicycles sharing the road in close proximity. They invited a variety of speakers who hold differing perspectives to present their point of view to the bus drivers. The list included a city planner, law enforcement officers, a psychology professor from a local university, state transportation safety specialists, members and the president of the local bicycle club, and an adult bicyclist who recently experienced a near miss with one of their school buses.
Several bicycle club members provided a hands-on demonstration of the difficulties that bicycle riders face while negotiating their bike alongside school buses and other motorized traffic.
To gain the perspective of a bicyclist, bus drivers were given the chance to ride a bicycle and experience the intimidating size, sound, and wind turbulence caused by a passing school bus. As several bicycles were ridden in single file, a school bus passed the line several times at varying speeds and at a distance of three to five feet to simulate passing on the road. The bus did the same alongside a line of bus drivers standing on a curb as pedestrians, driving by at 10 miles per hour and then at 30 miles per hour. The resulting wide eyes and gasps were apparent.
In another exercise, the bus was loaded with drivers as it followed a bicycle ridden by a club member through a mock city street laid out with construction cones. The drivers saw how the bicyclist had to swerve way out into the traffic lane to get around a parked car while also allowing room for a potentially open car door. The bus also followed the bike as it approached an intersection and the drivers saw that for a right turn, the bicyclist stayed close to the right curb.
Then, the drivers sat, one by one, in the driver’s seat of the bus while bicycles were placed at strategic locations around the bus for the purpose of demonstrating locations where the bicycles could be hidden from the driver’s view. Though blind spots were found to the rear of the bus and in front of the front bumper, the most dangerous place a bicycle rider is likely to be is to the right side of the bus, just behind the service door and five feet or more away from the bus.
Share the road. Bicycles are considered to be vehicles in most places, and as such, have as much right to use the road as motorists.