Driving through the residential area to work or to drop off children at the school, one got to cater for a few extra minutes to stop for school buses. The rule in Canada and US is that whether on a city street, highway or county road, and regardless of the speed limit and the number of lanes, motorists travelling in both directions must stop when approaching a stopped school bus with its upper red lights flashing. A flashing stop arm will swing out while passengers are boarding or leaving the bus. While stopping behind a school bus, the drivers got to ensure that they are at least 20 meters away. Once all passengers have boarded or disembarked, the ‘Stop’ arm will fold away. Any infringement to this rule fines ranging from $400 to $2,000. School bus drivers and other witnesses can report vehicles that have illegally passed a school bus. The modern school buses are fitted with cameras to record events inside and outside the bus.
School buses have been specifically designed and equipped to carry students. Therefore, they are one of the only vehicles on the road with their size and design that maximizes safety for children. The highly distinguishable ‘National School Bus Chrome’ colour later renamed as ‘National School Bus Glossy Yellow’ as lead was removed from the pigment. Black markings on an yellow background is meant to attract visual attention of any driver or pedestrian.
All school buses are equipped with flashing lights and a stop arm, which swing out whenever a child is being picked up or dropped off from the bus. These signals are used to indicate to traffic approaching from both sides of the road to come to a full stop and to remain so until the indicator has been deactivated. The crossing arm when deployed, ensures that the students who have to cross the road before boarding or after leaving their bus, have to go around it and thus are always at a safe distance away from the front bumper. This enables the driver to see them, or locate them in the bus mirrors. School bus design includes strategically placed grid of six mirrors, three on either sides (two convex and one plain mirror), that allow the driver 360 degrees visibility.
Transport Canada, after analysis of various accidents involving school buses have decided to do away with seat belts in school buses. The current school bus design provides a high level of protection to occupants and that seat belts may trap the children on school buses in case of an accident. School buses protect passengers through “compartmentalisation”, a design that includes seats filled with energy-absorbing material and high backs seats anchored strongly and placed close together to form compartments. In case of a collision, these special compartments would absorb the impact dispersing it throughout the entire body as opposed to solely the head and neck.
Studies have shown that adding seat belts to the current seating configuration of a school bus can increase the chance of head and neck injuries. For a seat belt to be effective, it must be worn correctly, snug and on the upper thighs. Because school vehicles carry passengers from the very young to high school students, if seat belts were used, they would need to be readjusted and their use monitored. A seat belt not worn correctly may cause serious injuries.
Raised floors in the school bus ensures that in the event a vehicle collides with a school bus, that vehicle will impact beneath the seated passengers, since the school bus seats are above the crash line. Structural strength and integrity of the joints between body panels of buses ensure protection in rollover-type accidents. Burn resistance form materials are used inside the school bus. A protective cage is provided for the fuel tank to reduce the possibility of fuel leaks. The windows are made of shatter proof glass.
Most school buses employ GPS systems to provide the exact location and speed of a school bus at any time. They also have an on-board electronic reminder system that reminds drivers to check for sleeping children before leaving the bus.
For the purposes of evacuation, school buses are equipped with a minimum of at least one emergency exit in addition to the main entry door. The rear-mounted emergency exit door is a design feature retained from when school buses were horse-drawn wagons and the entrance door was rear-mounted to avoid frightening the horses.
Many cases were reported about the clothing of students getting entangled in the handrail at the entrance, resulting in a fall or a major accident. The most common piece of clothing that can be snagged on the handrail is a jacket with a drawstring at the waist. These drawstrings commonly have a large bobble or knot at the ends that can become lodged in the handrail. However, other articles of such as scarves , long straps on backpacks, or dangling key chains can also be snagged on the handrail. The redesigned handrails minimises entanglement by filling in the gaps with rubber washers.
At the start of each day, the school bus driver has to conduct daily safety inspections, read instruments and gauges, perform routine tests, and confirm proper mirror adjustments. The inspection is recorded in a vehicle logbook to prevent and minimize mechanical breakdowns. Post-trip inspections are performed to verify that every child has exited the bus at the appropriate stop. In addition to regular mechanical maintenance and daily vehicle inspections by the driver, a Motor Vehicle Inspection Station will perform at least two mechanical inspections each year on every school bus in Ontario. School buses are also subjected to unannounced roadside safety inspections at their intended destination rather than at the roadside to avoid inconvenience to the students.
The prime need to keep our children safe at all times is a national responsibility. Redesigning the school buses to make them safer is an ongoing process and will continue to evolve to make our children safer.