Pennsylvania is known for its picturesque winters, as it transforms into a snow-covered wonderland during the colder months. However, with this winter wonderland comes a set of challenges, particularly for those responsible for ensuring the safety of students – the school bus drivers.
The state’s diverse terrain and unpredictable winter weather patterns demand an elevated level of skill and preparedness from school bus drivers. In this article, we are going to discuss the pressing need for winter driving training for Pennsylvania school bus drivers, highlighting the critical role they play in ensuring the safety of students and the importance of equipping them with the necessary knowledge and skills to navigate treacherous winter roads effectively. Read on to learn more about these.
The importance of bus drivers’ training
School bus drivers are aware of the huge responsibility – of transporting children to and from school – so they want to ensure that they put safety first. This is why proper training is essential for every school bus driver, whether it’s sunny or snowy.
Frigid temperatures, ice, and snow present considerable driving challenges and test every school bus driver’s ability. For driving in the winter, bus drivers should make sure that they get the necessary training in safety measures. They should be familiar with things like the anti-lock braking system and know how to maneuver the bus in case of slippery or icy roads.
It is the driver’s responsibility to be prepared for winter conditions. This means being prepared physically and mentally and making sure that their vehicles are in sound condition for the winter weather.
School bus drivers also have a significant role as first responders in emergencies. They are in the ideal position to provide help or assistance when needed. They should be trained in basic first aid, CPR, bandaging wounds, etc., and this training can go much further when first responders themselves share their knowledge, expertise, and experience. Children, in particular, are usually the first priority as they might need more attention during emergencies.
Aspiring school bus drivers in Pennsylvania must meet the following requirements to be eligible for training:
- Be at least 18 years old (although other bus training companies require applicants to be at least 21).
- Have a commercial driver’s license (CDL) Class B in good standing.
- Make sure that their CDL has school bus and passenger endorsements.
Suppose an aspiring applicant meets all the initial requirements. In that case, they should undergo (and pass) the following training and tests:
- At least 20 hours of training on school bus safety and operation, including 14 hours in the classroom and an additional 6 hours of hands-on training behind the wheel.
- Physical test every 13 months.
- Vision test.
- Knowledge test that includes ordinary questions and questions related to school bus and passenger endorsements.
- A road test that demonstrates the driver’s maneuvering skills and vehicle inspection knowledge.
Winter weather challenges in Pennsylvania
The climate in Pennsylvania is typical of a temperate zone. The winter season in Pennsylvania usually starts in December and ends in March. Winter in the state is characterized by continuous freezing weather, with temperatures typically running from around 32 degrees to below 0 degrees Fahrenheit.
Because of this, there may be snow, sometimes deep, during the winter season. That, as well as decreased visibility and slick roadways, pose significant challenges for school bus drivers.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that about 17% of vehicle crashes occur in snowy conditions. According to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), 70% of roads in the US are in snowy regions, which increases the threat of an accident significantly.
Tips for driving the school bus in the winter
To ensure safe driving in the winter, school bus drivers need to consider the following tips:
1) Plan ahead – Before getting behind the wheel the next day, prepare for the adverse winter conditions by creating a plan for weather conditions and delays.
- Develop and establish alternative routes or snow routes.
- Establish an earlier start time for drivers.
- Create communication with procedures and policies for possible late starts or cancellations for disabled school buses.
- Have a communication protocol or system to keep drivers, students, parents/guardians, and school staff aware of the plans and timing, particularly if the bus is running behind schedule.
2) Get into training – Training is essential for every school driver, whether it is sunny or snowy. With proper training, school bus drivers will have the capability to reduce risk and directly save lives.
3) Prepare the school bus for winter – Equip your buses to counter the harsh winter conditions. It’s best to do it before the winter season begins (check the more detailed tips for “winterizing” your school bus later in this article).
4) Maintain visibility – Keep the windshield clear of ice and snow, have the headlights on, and make sure that the heater or defrosting vents are clear of any obstructions.
5) Slow down – In harsh weather conditions, such as heavy snow, keeping the passengers safe is more important than staying on schedule.
6) Anticipate poor or dangerous roads – Maintain a considerable distance between you and other objects. This will give you more time and room to react to anything you may encounter while driving.
7) Get the “feel” of the road – When you are away from traffic, drive slowly and try the brakes occasionally to see how slippery the roads may be. Don’t make sudden movements while slamming the brakes or hitting the accelerator, which could otherwise throw you into a skid.
8) Drive defensively – Don’t rush; be aware of the traffic and other motorists around you while driving.
9) Never take chances – If you feel that something might not be safe, it most likely isn’t.
10) Have warm clothes – Dress in warm clothes or have them on board in case you need them. But make sure you are able to maintain your visibility while getting bundled up in a scarf and parkas. It is important to be able to see and be seen.
What should be included in winter driving training
Road conditions are not at all similar to normal road conditions due to snow and ice, making the roads slick and slippery. The driving rules established by a state-local ministry would not be enough to keep school buses safe. Thus, school bus drivers should undergo training specialized for winter driving.
- Vehicle preparation – School bus drivers should have an inspection checklist before driving them out under winter conditions.
- All tires should have sufficient tread or replace them with winter tires.
- Test all batteries.
- Check windshield wipers.
- Test all the lights.
- Add brake line antifreeze.
- Check that the defroster and heater are working properly.
- Apply an anti-fog product on mirrors and interior glass surfaces.
- Apply rain repellent on exterior glass surfaces (to prevent snow and ice from sticking to them).
- Have an oil absorbent or kitty litter for emergency traction.
- Safe driving techniques – Adjusting the speed, watching out for ice patches, driving slowly and defensively, keeping a safe distance, avoiding making sudden movements, etc., are some of the essential safe driving techniques that should be included in the training.
- Emergency procedures and protocols – In an emergency, the top priority is always the safety of the students. In case of emergency, the bus driver should be able to perform safety and preventative procedures (such as basic first aid) and contact the school staff and local government to coordinate an immediate response. Bus drivers should also have the phone numbers of the children’s parents or guardians so that they can contact them in an emergency.
- Communication and decision-making skills – Communicating and decision-making are some of the essential skills that school bus drivers must possess. Since they are in charge of the student’s journey from home to school and vice versa, drivers may have to make quick decisions in different situations. For instance, if there are delays on the route due to a snowstorm, drivers may have to contact the parents and school staff about it and make sure that the students arrive home safely.
Benefits of winter driving training
The list below shares the importance and benefits of winter driving training for school bus drivers:
- Training can help school bus drivers learn to manage distractions and be more alert.
- Drivers will be able to recognize and deal with difficult or challenging situations.
- It improves safety for both the students and drivers themselves.
- It helps in reducing accidents and disruptions during the winter season.
- It enhances public trust and confidence in school bus transportation.
- It reinforces the importance of safety.
Extreme weather conditions are one of the most challenging encounters any school bus driver can face. One of the hallmarks of an exceptional school bus driver is his ability to deal with such challenges skillfully. A lot of programs can provide basic bus driver training. But nothing can replace advanced and comprehensive driver safety training when it comes to driving a school bus. Taking part in behind-the-wheel school bus driver programs can lead to a safer environment for students, school bus drivers, other motorists, and pedestrians.
“PA School Bus Drivers Know about Winter Safety” explains more about preparations school bus drivers take to be ready for winter driving. You can find out if there are school bus driver positions available in your area by visiting School Bus Hero.