According to the American School Bus Council, “students are about 70 times more likely to get to school safely if they travel by school bus instead of traveling by car.” School buses are built safer and maintained more diligently than ever before. Couple this with the savings on fuel and traffic congestion, and it’s no wonder that school buses remain the obvious choice for getting our kids to school.
One thing statistics don’t always emphasize, however, is the human factor behind why K-12 transportation is so safe – our drivers. They know a lot more than the details of their route. They are highly trained in student behavior management, emergency medical aid, accident avoidance, and more. Any professional driver needs specialized training, but nothing is like driving a school bus.
If you’re looking to add one more tool to their arsenal this summer, AAA produced a training video called Children in Traffic that reminds us of the unique perspective of children, one that is easy for adults to forget. We’ve highlighted some of the key points below, because it’s always a useful exercise to look at the world through the eyes of those we’re transporting.
Road Signs. On any given roadway, there is plenty of signage to direct pedestrian behavior, but all of them are designed by and for adults. A child might interpret this crossing sign, for example, to be telling them that they’re safe as long as they run across the street.
Or they may think this sign is telling them to cross here, because that’s what the people in the picture are doing.
Pretend Play. One of the beauties of childhood is how naturally children blend fantasy and reality. When a child draws her neighborhood, for example, she might turn the cars into silly animals. Separating fun and danger takes years of conditioning and experience, so we should never assume a student—or her little brother running to catch her—is fully aware that the 12-ton moving vehicle is a threat. They may very well be imagining those shiny lights as the eyeballs of some exciting, yellow creature that wants to play.
Perception is Reality. Because a bus doesn’t change shape when it moves (like a dog or person would), small children can’t understand that it’s moving at all. Due to this same perception problem, it’s incredibly difficult for children, even older ones, to discern variable speeds. This is why a child might dart out in front of a speeding vehicle after watching a slower-moving vehicle pass; their judgement is based solely on their last experience.
Peek-a-boo. We’ve all seen toddlers who cover their eyes when they want to “hide” from adults. In their minds, the opposite is also true. If they can see the bus, then the bus can see them. Even for older students, their vision is 1/3 narrower than that of adults, meaning peripheral movement is harder to detect.
Following Directions. Children are also not as adept to determining a sound’s direction as adults. A child may hear a vehicle as quickly as an adult, but it might take them several moments to know the location of that vehicle if their line of sight is blocked. That also goes for a driver’s horn beeping at them in warning.
Don’t Underestimate Them. Though their awareness might seem inferior, children are actually quite perceptive. In the National Geographic show Brain Games, 80% of children under 10 answered this riddle correctly: which way is the bus moving?
Hard to tell? Most children know the answer instantly. It’s going to the left, of course. Otherwise we’d see the door.
If you’re a school bus driver, try to understand how the bus looks from your students’ point of view, and do what you can to make sure parents are aware too. Above all, know that you are appreciated by all of us in the industry and that you do a difficult, demanding, and important job every day. Educating the next generation isn’t possible if students don’t get to school!
Content contributions by Tyler Technologies solutions consultants Kim Rentner and Brant Gardner.