School Bus Drivers Recognized
(OnFocus) Over 15,000 school bus drivers in Wisconsin are given a special shout-out during School Bus Driver Appreciation Week Feb. 10-14 in recognition of their work to transport more than 600,000 students safely to and from school.
At Marshfield Bus Service, over 50 bus drivers operate 27 school buses, plus 5 for special needs and one or two for afternoon events and activities.
Every morning, the bus drivers inspect their buses to make sure they’re in working order before starting their routes to pick up students, the earliest bus leaving at 6 a.m. The process is repeated in the afternoon.
In recognition, some kids have given their bus drivers presents and businesses have made food donations, said Duane Nothnagel, Director of Safety and Training.
Smaller gestures are also appreciated. “A simple thank-you goes a long way,” he said.
A handful of drivers have stuck around since the 1980s, including Nothnagel who started driving bus in 1986 — long enough to be transporting the children of the kids who used to ride their buses years ago.
“The kids think it’s really neat that I gave their mom a ride,” he said.
While this week recognizes bus drivers, he also thanks the mechanics who keep the buses running, the office staff taking calls, the parents who support the drivers, and the kids who ride respectfully.
As bus drivers complete their routes, an important daily responsibility for a bus driver is the safety of the students.
Following the tragic incident this week of a 6-year-old kindergartner who was struck and killed by a passing driver, and her 4-year-old sister injured, while waiting to board her school bus near Plainfield, drivers are being reminded to follow the rules of the road to prevent another tragedy.
When a school bus has activated its red flashing lights, drivers are required by state law to stop, from both directions, at least 20 feet away until the bus moves again. A yellow light means drivers should be preparing to slow down and stop, instead of attempting to pass.
Being aware of surroundings is also an important step to keeping students safe.
“If there’s a bus out there, chances are they’re picking up or dropping off,” Nothnagel said, adding that bus drivers have witnessed cell phone usage in some passing vehicles.
In the 2019-20 school year so far, the Marshfield Bus Service reported 24 illegal bus passing to law enforcement, which resulted in 6 citations. The other drivers received warnings, and in two cases no action was taken or the incident was for record only.
This number does not reflect all bus passings, but only ones where a license plate was able to be captured. While cameras are equipped on the buses, they are unable to capture license plates, which are instead taken down by bus drivers or riders to pass onto law enforcement.
Ultimately, tragedies involving school buses are largely preventable with patience and awareness on the part of drivers.
“There are no words or apologies that will make up for the loss of life,” the Wood County Sheriff’s Department stated on its Facebook page this week. “Please stop when you see the red flashing lights and stop sign displayed on a school bus. Please focus on the roadway and get rid of the distractions. [The] majority of crashes are preventable, and only you as a driver can take the steps and do your part to ensure safety on the roads.”