Bus Driving Safety Tips

By David J. Stewart | January 2007
Click for music in a new window

Here are some practical safety tips when driving a bus, from my own experience in the bus ministry for 14 years. I drove a church bus for many of those years, worked as a truck mechanic for many years, and still have a valid CDL license:

  1. NEVER drive a bus on only a few hours of sleep!  I remember hearing a man at church tell me that he had to be up to drive a school bus at 4:30 a.m. Monday morning, after driving a church bus all day Sunday and getting home past midnight on Monday.  There's no way anyone can function properly on 3 hours of sleep.  I turned him in to the safety director of our bus ministry, and he was told he couldn't drive for the Christian school on Monday.  Sometimes ministries push people too far and tragedy results.  Safety first folks—be safe, not sorry!

  2. Always report unsafe driving practices by ANY bus driver.  I wouldn't believe this unless I had seen it myself, and I've seen it repeatedly—bus drivers who drive across train tracks while the gates are down and the warning lights flashing.  Are they crazy?  Yes!  You have every right, and a duty to the children and other passengers on the bus, to report ANY unsafe or questionable practices concerning the bus.  In fact, I'd call the police on ANY bus driver who crosses downed crossing gates with a bus load of children!!!  That's insane!

  3. NEVER violate the law, and risk the lives of your 72 passengers by crossing any train tracks when the lights are flashing and the gates are down.  Legally, every bus driver is supposed to stop, look, and listen (with the door open) at all train tracks, whether the lights are flashing with the gates down or not.

  4. Stay far away from other traffic!  If you have to use the "two-second, or four-second" rule for following distance... YOUR FOLLOWING TOO CLOSE!  I am a firm believer in maintaining a ridiculous distance, ESPECIALLY between buses, which is being EXTRA SAFE.  Literally, I would try to stay 1/4 mile away from other buses.  I am suffering with herniated disks in my neck for the rest of my life, because another bus driver in our church plowed into the back of the bus I was driving.  His transmission was laying in the street.  Let's face it, drivers DON'T use the four-second rule when it's raining (and it was raining that day).  So I say, it's much better to allow MUCH more following distance.  The rule I use is to always be going a little slower than other traffic.  This way the following distance is always increasing instead of decreasing.  Get into the habit of gently backing away from vehicles in front of you, to allow lots of following distance.  Let everyone else rush to the red light.

  5. Use Your Mirrors, that's why they're there!  It's important to make sure that your mirrors are adjusted properly so that you can use them.  A bus has several BLIND SPOTS, which means that EVERY CHURCH BUS should have enough mirrors to cover those blind spots.  You definitely want convex lens mirrors on each side of the front hood.  This gives a wide view look of each side of the bus.  Ensure before driving the bus that no mirrors are broken, and that they haven't fallen off the bus.  I've seen some real junkers that had no business being on the road.  By the way, I'm going to say this... if your church can't afford to maintain safe buses, then don't have a bus ministry.  A desire for souls doesn't justify breaking the law and endangering other people's lives, not to mention the class-action lawsuit that'll likely be filed against the church.  Sadly, the Christian Law Association has it's hands full with unnecessary lawsuits because of carelessness in some of our churches.

  6. Don't be a lane changer, and when you do change lanes, do it SLOWLY!  Every time you changes lanes, you are creating a potential accident.  Only an idiot would suddenly signal and then swerve into the next lane.  If you missed your turn, then take the time to go around the block, NEVER swerve suddenly, and ALWAYS alert other drivers with your turn signals before turning.  Also, if the driver behind you has to press on his brakes before you put on your turn signal, you cut him off. 

  7. NEVER backup without a spotter.  There is NO SUCH THING as safe backing.  Driving backwards by nature is very dangerous.  Vehicles are designed to go forwards, not backwards.  Backing up is very dangerous, even in the safest of conditions, because YOU CAN'T SEE WHERE YOU'RE GOING. 

  8. NEVER backup if you can't see your spotter.  A heartbroken man in a bus ministry backup over his own son, killing him, because he ASSUMED his son was out of the way.  Please don't ever backup when you can't see your spotter.

  9. Try to avoid situation where you'll be required to backup.  I knew a bus driver who couldn't make this particular turn on his bus route.  So what he'd do is drive all the way down the street anyway, then back all the way out.  Folks, that's retarded.  Why take chances?  Drop off a couple bus workers to go get the riders.  Then swing back a few minutes later to get them. 

  10. It's a good idea to have an adult bus worker sitting by the back door at all times.  Any kid who has ever spent time on a bus KNOWS that the troublemakers LOVE the back seats of the bus.  It's a frightening moment for any bus driver, when traveling 50 m.p.h. down the highway, and the back door alarm suddenly sounds (i.e., someone is opening the door).  Kids are kids.  The adult in the back seat should be trained to keep alert of what the children are doing at all times.  Is anyone sticking their head out the window?  Is anyone tossing items out the window?  Is anyone killing another passenger?  I don't know why, but kids love to wrestle on school buses.  To prevent distractions and accidents, it's helpful to the bus driver if an adult is dedicated to maintaining civility.

  11. NEVER drive a bus if you see liquid leaking down the inside of a tire.  This is a guaranteed sign that you've blown a brake caliper, and your breaking ability has been reduced greatly.  All school buses have a dual-braking system for safety reasons.  So don't be deceived, you may still have brakes, but only HALF of the system is working.  A bus captain once became angry with me in front of the passengers, because I found fluid leaking down the inside of my right rear tire, and I refused to drive any further.  When the mechanic came to tow the bus, the bus captain apologized to me.  The mechanic told him that the condition was extremely dangerous.  Of course, being a mechanic myself at the time, I already knew that.  Remember drivers, YOU are LEGALLY responsible for the safety of all your passengers—NOT anyone else!  Don't stick your neck out for a zealous ministry leader who disregards safety.  This is a big problem in bus ministries all across America!  I've actually heard bus drivers bragging about driving dangerous buses—with inoperative windshield wipers, one headlight, idiot lights flashing on and off, and even buses where you had to pump the brake pedal several times to "get a pedal."  If you have to press a brake pedal more than once before you feel any resistance, your bus is extremely dangerous to drive!

  12. NEVER drive an unsafe bus.  I once went to a bus center where our church rented buses from to sign out a bus, and noticed that the "low vacuum" idiot light was on.  When I went to get another bus, the lot attendant tried to convince me that there was nothing wrong with the bus.  I refused, and he gave me the key to another bus.  This bus had no windshield when I found it.  No kidding.  As I went to ask for another bus, and you're not going to believe this, another driver came into the office and said... "I was pulling out of Dunkin Donuts and my bus caught on fire."  I'd never tried not to laugh so hard in my life.  I couldn't believe what I was hearing.  Of course, this was Chicago, and in any big city you're going to have more of these types of problems.  Again, YOU are solely responsible for the bus you are driving.  You are required BY LAW to do your pre-inspection before driving any bus. 

  13. Don't allow kids to stick their head out the bus window.  I know of a child who's head was crushed between the bus and a telephone pole, killing him instantly.  Tragically, his mother was sitting in the seat behind him and saw the whole ordeal.  Be safe, not sorry!  Don't even allow kids to place their head through the window when the bus is turned off.  Get them into the right habit, all the time. 

  14. NEVER accelerate quickly after dropping off a passenger.  A child may drop something, and go back to pick it up, and you'll have to explain to the police, their parents, and your pastor why you killed their child by running over them.  I always start out slowly and continue slowly for several feet, then I gradually accelerate.  I really like those pneumatic operated gates that swing out in front of the bus.  This safety device requires children to walk further out in front of the bus where the driver CAN SEE THEM.  I recommend them, but don't rely on them so much that you let your guard down.  I'm telling you folks, buses are dangerous by nature.  Yes, buses can be driven safely, but it requires constant alertness, thinking ahead, and driving at reasonable speeds for conditions. 

  15. Don't take out your anger on your passengers.  I once knew a young bus driver who became angry at his girlfriend, so he decided to drive like a maniac—speeding, jerking the bus, forcing the accelerator pedal, and pressing hard on the brakes.  When his church bus arrived at the rendezvous, I saw some of the ladies on his bus crying.  If you ever experience this, warn your pastor immediately.  If he doesn't listen, or defends the driver, call the police immediately.  Jerks like that shouldn't be driving anything.  So if you get mad, don't be selfish and cruel by tormenting your riders.  It's tragic that a person would come to church (of all places) and receive this type of treatment.  Some men are too big for their britches, and need to be dealt with.  Don't be afraid to speak up!

  16. Don't take your bus through any drive-thrus.  I can't believe I'm giving you this one, but I actually saw it happen in Chicago.  This guy tried to drive his bus up to a drive-thru window, to get a burger, and crashed into the bottom of the drive-thru overhang.  Folks, how lazy are we Americans getting?  How do you explain that on your accident report?

  17. NEVER allow any ministry leader to bully you into doing something unsafe.  I've seen this happen time and time again.  If your church policy, or state law, dictates that the interior lights of the bus are to remain off while driving—then enforce it!  Furthermore, of your church, or state law, doesn't dictate anything concerning interior lights, you are still the driver, and YOU... NOT THE BUS CAPTAIN... ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE SAFETY OF YOUR PASSENGERS.  So if you want the lights off, they go off!  Some ministry leaders may need to be put in their place by the pastor, or the police if need be. 

  18. Enforce the STANDEE LINE RULE.  I realize that a lot of drivers like the company upfront, but it is a distraction.  No passenger should pass the WHITE STANDEE LINE on the floor while the bus is in motion.  This prevents the driver from being distracted.

  19. Learn to say NO.  Don't neglect yourself or your family.  I've seen some ministries drain the life out of their drivers.  In a growing church, there is a natural tendency for ministry leaders to pressure bus drivers to "go the extra mile" (or should I say, thousands of miles).  Shame on such church leaders, who selfishly only think about being productive, even at the expense of their drivers and their families.  Drivers need to learn that it's ok to say, "NO."  Just tell your ministry leader that your family must come first, and that you absolutely cannot drive.  I once told a bus captain that I couldn't drive for him Sunday nights anymore.  I told him that I was burned out, and needed to get to bed earlier for health reasons, because I had to be up at 5:30 a.m. to go to school in the morning (50 miles away), and then work all afternoon.  Do you know what that jerk did?  He preached a sermon on the church bus that night while I was driving, saying indirectly (i.e., without mentioning my name) that I didn't care if 72 people went to Hell.  That is exactly what he said too.  I had driven that bus on Sunday night for YEARS, and I did it for the Lord, but that bus captain was selfish and ungrateful.  So, please, if you can drive... wonderful; but if you can't... be firm and tell them NO.  If they don't like it, they'll get over it.

There aren't any more wonderful people in all the world, than those working in bus ministries across America.  Thank God for bus workers!  However, bus workers can become demons very quickly when something happens to a child.  The people riding our church buses are entitled to the best treatment, the utmost respect, and the safety conditions possible. 

It is the only happy life to live for the salvation of souls.”
—Pastor Dwight L. Moody