Jul 27, 2018

School Bus Safety: Why Buses Have to Stop at Train Tracks

School Bus Safety: Why Buses Have to Stop at Train Tracks

Anyone in a hurry hates driving behind a school bus. They make frequent stops picking up kids and letting them off plus they stop at all the train tracks. Impatient motorists often wonder why they have to stop, considering many railroad crossings have flashing warning lights as well as gates that drop when a train is coming, . The practice began around 80 years ago after a horrific tragedy occurred. It’s all about school bus safety, and when children’s lives are at stake, no precautions are excessive.

The Legend and the Facts

Ever heard the legend of the haunted train tracks in San Antonio, Texas? It’s said that when cars stall on train tracks, the spirits of children killed in a school bus/train accident push them off to safety. While the school bus safety practice at railroad crossings did start as the result of just such an incident, it actually occurred over 1,200 miles northwest of San Antonio.

In 1938 on December 1st, a blinding blizzard struck Sandy, Utah. The furious snow flurries slowed traffic on roads and rails, reducing visibility to zero. One bus loaded with students heading for Jordan High School that morning pulled up to a train crossing and came to a stop. The 29-year-old driver had driven the route for 3 years. During that time, no trains had crossed his path on the morning trip. So, when the short span visible on either side of the bus looked clear, he accelerated to cross the tracks.

Just then, a train traveling about 60 mph slammed into the bus and dragged it for nearly ½ mile. In addition to the driver, 25 of the 39 students on board died. To date, the accident is the worst train crossing tragedy in American history. It’s also what ramped up nationwide school bus safety where traffic crosses railroad tracks. Buses had always been required to stop at a crossing, but after that, drivers had to open the door and the window at their side to listen as well as look before moving forward. Additionally, at first, a student would step off the bus, too, to serve as a lookout. He would look up and down the tracks to confirm whether a train was coming. However, that part of the procedure was dropped because of the danger involved.

School Bus Safety Across the Country

Actual laws regarding stopping at railroad tracks vary around the country. Most states literally mention school buses in their regulations. Others say that all “commercial vehicles transporting passengers” must stop at train crossings. In addition to state laws, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services published recommended procedures for school bus safety at railroad crossings. On top of stopping, looking, and listening, drivers have to eliminate as much noise as possible by silencing students and turning off fans, radios, etc. What’s more, school bus drivers are not to attempt a crossing if they can’t be certain that tracks are clear.

In addition to properly training drivers to be cautious near train tracks, all school districts have similar school bus safety maintenance guidelines. These include following manufacturer recommendations and performing multi-point inspections before each trip. That means many buses get a once-over every day. Just like vehicles in all commercial fleets, it’s a good idea for school buses to be on a PM schedule and use fleet management software. A program like Fullbay keeps managers on top of scheduling maintenance and tracking vehicle history, a practice that maximizes school bus safety and protects kids.