There is a facility in central Idaho that dismantles nuclear warheads. The warheads are transported in average looking semis escorted by ordinary looking vehicles that are manned by specially trained and heavily armed tactical officers. The semi transporting the warhead is heavily armored and will self-protect even if the security team is taken out. Sadly, school buses do not have the luxury of security escorts.
Bus drivers are the unsung heroes of our education system. Pupil transportation professionals are up early and on route to pick up children in all weather and traffic conditions. They drive nearly 500,000 buses while transporting 23 million children to receive their education. The cost of failure means children are injured or die.
Since I have been sharing Makayla’s Story, which is a debrief about the evening of Dec. 20, 2011 when my 11-year-old daughter was killed because of a stop-arm violation, I have been told many unbelievable stories that jeopardized the safety of the children on and around school buses.
A police sergeant once told me a crash happened in front of his son’s bus and there were bumpers and other car parts laying in the intersection blocking the road. The driver asked middle school students to get off the bus and move the debris, so the bus wouldn’t be late. I appreciate the effort to stay on schedule, but why jeopardize our children’s safety for it?
Another officer shared with me that his wife was returning home from walking her children to the neighborhood elementary school when a bus pulled up to her and stopped. The driver opened the door and asked if she needed a ride, assuming she was late to the stop. The officer’s wife felt very complimented for being mistaken for a high school student since she is in her mid-30s.
In September, a school bus in Oklahoma stopped to pick up a hitchhiker and her dog while students were on the bus. How is this protecting our children?
Lou Holtz was one of the most successful coaches in college football history, leading 23 of his teams to bowl games and finished the season 18 times in the Top 25 rankings, including No. 1 in 1988 at Notre Dame. He is well known for his ability to motivate and inspire his players.
While coaching at Notre Dame, Coach Holtz created the concept of “WIN,” or “What’s Important Now?” Coach Holtz taught his players to ask themselves that question 35 times a day. When they were getting ready for school they were to ask themselves, “What’s Important Now?” In the classroom, “What’s Important Now?” On the practice field or in the gym, “What’s important Now?” On game day, “What’s Important Now?” WIN was a great tool to help his players focus on the importance of the here and now.
Each child is priceless cargo that is unique and cannot be replaced. Drivers can use the trainings of Coach Holtz to help ensure the safety of their precious cargo. Throughout every aspect of their route they can ask themselves “What’s important now?”
Bus drivers are professional drivers. Sadly, many people that we share our roads with are not focusing or even paying attention to their driving. In my law enforcement career, I can attest to this by the number of crashes I investigate and the number of tickets that I have written.
Statistics show that there will be 13 million stop arm violations each year. Tens of thousands of people will not stop for school buses each day. As hard as I try, I cannot control other drivers. I stop them, write them tickets, and the next day I am at it again, writing them more tickets.
What can school bus drivers control? You have the power to make sure policies and best practices are followed. If there are safety issues, drivers need to express their concerns to their supervisors. You are the one who follows the traffic laws. You are the one who controls the switch when the amber lights are turned on. You are the one who is checking mirrors for cars approaching, and making sure they are stopped before letting the children off the bus. If you are following best practices, you are the one who makes sure the road is safe before you allow the children to cross.
I challenge you to focus on the WIN so all the children will make it home safe.
Dan Sperry is a deputy sheriff in Bonneville County, Idaho and in that capacity also serves as a school resource officer. He presents “Makayla’s Story” on the death of his step-daughter Makayla Strahle at the hands of an illegal school bus passer at conferences nationwide, including at the STN EXPO in 2016. He can be contacted at email@example.com.