I received an email from a fellow bus driver who is relatively new at the field and he asked me for tips on how to effectively back a school bus. Proper backing is an easy task once you get the hang of it. A school bus is a daunting vehicle considering its size and cargo we carry. Often people do ask me, "How DO you turn around a vehicle that large?" That being said, I do have a few helpful tips when backing up a bus for both bus drivers and for parents (and other motorists) who encounter a bus that has to back up.
For Bus Drivers:
1. Get a trusted friend to stand at the front and back bumper - body up against the bumper of the bus while you are sitting in the drivers seat. (Do this when the bus is off and secured). Have the friend move to strategic points along the length of your bus as well as standing at all 4 corners. Viewing the bus from the drivers seat allows you to understand the dimensions of your bus from looking in the mirrors. You can get a feel for how large your bus is and where your turning radius is.
2. When backing, be aware of your tail swing as well as where your rear wheels are at all times. You can control the front of the bus and the rear of the bus by remembering where your wheels are at all times. When your rear wheels clear a corner you can cut the steering wheel hard to the direction you need, and maneuver the bus effectively. (Tail swing is what happens when the front wheels make a turn and the back part of a bus follows.)
3. When backing, it is always better to back into a dead end or side street. NEVER back into a heavy congested area or on a highway if you can help it.
4. Practice, practice, practice!!! I cannot emphasize this enough. Different buses have different turning radius'. Some buses, you will have to swing wide to get the proper angle to back. Others, its as simple as pulling in and backing out a car. Play around with your bus and if you are not sure you have the right angle, you can always back out the way you went in and try again. Once you feel comfortable with your vehicle, it is good to see if you can try backing maneuvers on spare buses should your bus ever be decommissioned due to a problem.
For Parents (and other motorists):
1. When following a bus, leave enough space behind the bus so that if the bus has to stop quickly and perform a maneuver, the bus driver is not locked by your vehicle behind it.
2. If a bus pulls into a parking lot, make sure you hang back and watch where that bus is going before you blindly follow behind. The bus driver may be executing a back up procedure and needs the space to turn around and maneuver.
3. If travelling alongside a bus, be aware of the bus drivers actions. Many of us will signal when we are about to make a turn. If we are turning, make sure your vehicle is not in the way of our tail when we do swing. Sometimes we have to make slightly wider turns due to the size of our vehicle and if you are travelling in our blind spots, WE CANNOT SEE YOU! Additionally, PLEASE be considerate and don't drive in our blind spots.
4. If you DO see a bus backing up towards your vehicle, do NOT honk the horn to try to get the bus driver's attention. We are often dealing with 50 some odd children on a bus at any given time. Instead, MOVE YOUR VEHICLE out of our way. We cannot hear you honking and remaining in place will get you squished.
Hope these tips help!
The Bus Driver