Riding the bus can be an exciting part of a child’s school day, but to make sure the journey remains a pleasant one, safety is an important consideration.
According to Bonnie Rathgeber, safety supervisor with First Student Canada in Airdrie, one of the key things for parents to keep in mind is that traffic and congestion create additional risks for drivers and their passengers – and school buses are no different.
“That’s a contributing factor to how our bus drivers have to react to a lot of things that are going on around them,” she said.
While part of the recent traffic increase is due to Airdrie’s consistent growth, another factor is specific to this time of year. Particularly during the first week or two of school in the fall, Rathgeber said, parents prefer to drive their kids to school themselves, which increases the congestion along bus routes.
“Some kids maybe aren’t used to riding the bus yet, and they have some reservations, of course, for that first week,” she said. “Parents just want to help them get through all that nervousness.”
But First Student Canada offers alternative ways to help introduce the process to students who might be new to school bus transportation, according to Rathgeber. The My 1st Ride program, which was held in Airdrie Aug. 13 to 15, gives kids the chance to learn what to expect on the bus, and experience their very first bus ride with mom and dad right there with them.
Drivers are encouraged to introduce themselves to parents, Rathgeber said, which gives parents the opportunity to then introduce the driver to their child – helping them feel comfortable accepting a ride from this new adult and understanding that everything is going to be alright.
“We also suggest that the small ones and the new riders sit in the front seats, so they can see everything that’s going on around them,” Rathgeber said. “That way, they’ll feel a little more confident, as well.”
Another important part of school bus safety, according to Rathgeber, is ensuring students respect the rules of the bus. First Student Canada encourages drivers to explain their expectations at the beginning of the year to make sure all riders know what they can and cannot do, since misbehaving children are more than just an annoyance for the person behind the wheel.
“It distracts our drivers when they have to continuously be looking in their mirror to make sure children are obeying all the rules,” she said. “That tends to put our drivers in a bit of a bad situation where we feel that it’s not safe for them.”
Since buses don’t come equipped with seatbelts, Rathgeber added, keeping drivers and passengers safe by ensuring everyone knows and follows the rules is imperative.
“When you’ve got children on a bus with seatbelts, we find that our drivers would not be able to get to the children with enough seatbelt cutters to get them all out, by the time something might be taking place,” she said. “The outside of the bus is a fairly heavy piece of equipment that can protect the children.”
Instead, students are instructed to sit with their feet facing forward and remove their backpacks. These backpacks can be used in the case of a collision to help absorb the impact, Rathgeber said, along with the back of the seat.
The main lesson for parents to remember, heading into another school year, is patience, according to Rathgeber – particularly during times of high congestion.
“The drivers are trying to get to all the students on that first day to make sure that they’re all picked up and all at the school on time,” she said. “We encourage everyone to just slow down a bit so we can all stay safe.”