Back to School . . . Safe Driving Tips for Bus Drivers

school buses

Today for many school districts across the U.S marks the official start of school. Hundreds of thousands of yellow school buses hit the roads carrying millions of students. Now is a good time to review some defensive driving techniques for bus drivers (and the rest of us).

1. It’s All about Attitude

Defensive driving is an attitude toward driving.

Fact: Surveys show that half of the population believes they will never get into an accident. “It can’t happen to me.” Another interesting statistic: most drivers involved in a fatal accident have never been in an accident before. In some cases their first accident will be their last.

Developing a defensive driving attitude among fleet drivers can reduce accidents and incidents by 25% up to 33% percent. Driving attitudes are important and the most important attitude is to drive defensively.

2. Bad Habits Die Hard

Over time, we all develop bad driving habits. It might be in putting on the turn signal late . . . or not at all, or stopping past the stop line, . . . or making rolling stops, etc. We get away with bad habits because other drivers have to compensate for them. They have to hesitate or second guess our intentions. This can lead to frustration, anger and even road rage.

There is only one cure for bad driving habits: bad driving habits need to be replaced by good driving  habits. Good driving habits are never automatic. Good driving habits take time and a lot of work to develop.

Top Tip: A number of bus accidents occur when the vehicle is empty. Don’t relax your defensive driving when the bus isn’t hauling students anymore.

3. It’s all about Managing Time and Managing Space

Did you know that most (up to 90%) motor vehicle accidents are avoidable? That’s a chilling thought when one looks at the annual statistics. The key is in managing time and managing space. There are many examples and situations where this principle can be applied.

For example, approximately thirty percent of accidents in the U.S. are rear-end collisions, By staying back at least four seconds (depending on the speed and/or weather conditions) when following another vehicle, it’s extremely unlikely a rear-end collision will occur.

Backing accidents can be avoided three ways (1.) don’t back, if possible (2.) back in position immediately upon arrival, so you don’t have to back out blind later, (3.) always have an adult spotter to assist in backing.

There are many examples of a driver giving him/herself more time and/or more space leads to accident and risk avoidance. It has been estimated that up to 90% of accidents could have been avoided if the driver involved had one extra second. Managing time and managing space can give a driver several seconds extra time to respond to a situation and avoid a collision.

4. Manage the Blind Spots

Every vehicle has blind spots, where nearby things appear invisible. Mirrors get bumped, get loose, get knocked out of adjustment. Mirrors need to be checked everyday, and adjusted if necessary.

Another blind spot is found behind the the “A” pillar, on the ends of the windshield.


The A-Pillar blind spot can hide a pedestrian in the crosswalk, motorcycle or even blend in to hide a tractor-trailer. Savvy defensive drivers have learned the Rock & Roll (or Crunch and Lean) technique to “rock and roll” in the seat, to look around the A-Pillar and other blind spots

Tip: Spend at least a full second in each mirror. 


5. Slow Down

Driving slower helps in management of time and space, allows for processing of multiple risks at the same time, or to deal with emergencies. In fact, driving slower may even be the law. For example, drivers should slow down BEFORE a curve or turn. Keep at least 10 miles under the posted curve speed. The posted curve speed is for cars not buses or other commercial motor vehicles (CMVs).


Proper speed (and space) management means:

  • Positioning your vehicle between clusters of vehicles to your front and rear. Don’t ride bunched with other vehicles in a “platoon” or “wolf pack.”
  • Positioning your vehicle for the greatest visibility that allows you to “see and be seen” by other drivers.
  • Positioning your vehicle in a lane position for maneuverability. Leave yourself an “out.”

6. Beware of the Risks While Driving

  • Drivers on their cell phones
  • Highway-rail crossings / train tracks
  • Parking lots
  • Inattentive drivers
  • Distracted drivers

(To name a few.) Look for and identify risks. One definition of safety is to be risk free. But risks need to be seen before they can be dealt with effectively. Make it a habit of actively looking for risks. Be on constant alert for new hazards. Once a risk or hazard has been identified, then take measures to avoid the risk/hazard situation.

reflective vest


One school district has bus drivers wear a reflective vest during their pre-trip inspection.


Defensive driving is an attitude. Every driver can choose to drive a little better by driving defensively. Often we are aware of everyone else’s bad habits. It’s much harder to identify and hopefully change our own bad driving habits. One effective way to drive defensively is by managing time and space to allow a safety factor for other driver’s mistakes. Knowing our blind spots and properly adjusting mirrors and properly using the mirrors helps to avoid collisions. Rock and roll in the seat to see around the A-Pillars. Slow down and manage vehicle position to see better and to be seen. Use the lane position that gives you the best line of sight and path of travel. Look for new risks and hazards while driving and have a plan to deal with them.

Thank you for reading this. Have a safe day.

J Taratuta

John Taratuta is an independent Risk Engineer. (989) 474-9599