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Bus drivers brush up for new school year

Marysville school bus driver Jacqueline Rojas checks the light system sequence and brakes before heading out on a practice drive on Aug. 24. - Kirk Boxleitner
Marysville school bus driver Jacqueline Rojas checks the light system sequence and brakes before heading out on a practice drive on Aug. 24.
— image credit: Kirk Boxleitner

MARYSVILLE — Jacqueline Rojas first became certified as a school bus driver in 2005, and after some years away, the down economy has seen her brushing back up on her skills in time for the 2012-13 school year at the Marysville School District.

“I live in Marysville and my daughter attends school here, so it’s nice to have the same days off as her,” said Rojas on the morning of Friday, Aug. 24, as Traci Tobler, training development specialist for the Marysville School District Transportation Department, put Rojas through her paces during a bus inspection and practice drive. “Safety always comes first when I’m driving. This is a huge vehicle and it doesn’t stop on a dime.”

“Our drivers have to be prepared for ‘predictable unpredictable’ behavior from other motorists and pedestrians,” Tobler said. “You know people are going to cut you off or run red lights, so you learn to expect it. There’s a perception that bus drivers can stop more quickly than they can, and that’s because they’re trained to be looking out further down the road than most other drivers.”

Rojas is one of 30 substitute drivers in a fleet of 100 Marysville School District buses that’s mainly staffed by 73 permanent drivers. As of Aug. 24, she’d done about 10 of the roughly 15 driving practice days that each driver must complete prior to being tested. According to Tobler, none of the driving practice days last longer than two hours, in order to facilitate the drivers’ retention of the skills that they’re learning or refreshing themselves on.

“Nice smooth stop,” Tobler told Rojas that Friday morning. “Good scanning. What are you looking out for?”

“Cars and kids leaping out into the street,” Rojas said.

Bus drivers not only need to plan their turns further in advance than car drivers, but also find it more challenging to make right turns than left turns due to the dimensions of their vehicles, when the reverse is true for regular motorists. Rojas approaches blind sharp corners in the road with extra caution, since she needs to take up both lanes in order to make those turns, and could encounter cars heading toward her. Like all school bus drivers, she also stops before each railroad crossing, even when the gate isn’t down, and opens the door to let passengers on or off.

“If a bus were to get stuck on the train tracks because the car in front or behind couldn’t move, there’s no good outcome for a bus-versus-train collision,” Tobler said. “If you see a bus out on the road that appears to be acting unusually, do let us know about it, but also keep in mind that it might be a driver in training, since the road is the only place they have to learn, so please don’t honk or yell if they’re going a bit slow.”

Rojas is impressed with the technological updates that have been made to the buses since she started driving them, but she still conducts old-fashioned checks such as patting down the seats, to make sure they’re firmly secured before the kids rush in to use them. While Rojas is an experienced mother, Tobler explained that the Marysville School District provides training on how to deal with children for all bus drivers, regardless of whether they’re parents off the clock.

“This won’t be the end of her training, either,” Tobler said of Rojas’ practice driving sessions and subsequent test. “Every year, our drivers receive refresher training. It doesn’t end after you learn how to drive.”

Parents can log onto the MSD website at www.msvl.k12.wa.us/departments/transportation to find out their children’s bus routes in time for the start of the 2012-13 school year on Wednesday, Sept. 5. School district officials caution parents to check the site more than once, since some routes might be subject to change.

 

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