Many back-to-school routines will return on September 1st, from packing lunches to completing homework. One of those routines for many Ferndale students are the daily school bus commutes.
But unlike many of those traditions, the return of consistent school bus routes is a ritual that affects everyone in Ferndale, not just students. And Ferndale school transportation staffers want adult drivers, students and parents to be extra alert and follow traffic laws as school buses fully return to Ferndale’s streets.
Ferndale school bus driver Brent Richards and Paul Rosser -- Director of Transportation for the school district -- share one major concern: drivers who don’t stop when a school bus flashes their stop paddle. A stop paddle is the retractable stop sign attached to the school bus with flashing red lights. When a school bus flashes the stop paddle, drivers in both directions are required by law to stop, so children can cross. There are a couple exceptions for this, but only on wide highways.
Unfortunately, many drivers fail to notice the stop paddle, or intentionally blow past it, Richards and Rosser said. The transportation department kept a map throughout the 2020-21 school year, marking the location each time a car didn’t stop for a school bus with the stop paddle out. There are nearly 40 instances of this occurring last school year according to the map -- and Richards said that’s likely an undercount.
By far, the location that’s the most dangerous for school bus pickups and dropoffs is Portal Way, just south of Enterprise Way on the east side of I-5. There are many bus stops with high numbers of students, but it’s also a busy thoroughfare and drivers don’t always think to stop when a school bus flashes its lights, Rosser said. Richards said the street is “infamous” for bus drivers.
Sometimes, bus drivers will leave their stop paddles flashing, despite seemingly no students crossing the street at that moment. Even if this is the case, drivers should wait until the bus driver puts down the paddle before hitting the gas pedal again, Richards said.
“You’re completely discounting the possibility of a kid running late,” he said. “They could run right out into the road, trying to catch the bus.”
Richards’ main safety tip for students is to wait for the bus driver’s go-ahead before crossing the street to board the bus.
“We make eye contact with the student, and do a big exaggerated head nod,” he said.
Richards also told parents to be patient with their students waiting to exit the bus. He has sometimes seen well-meaning parents wave their child across the street before the bus driver gives the student the signal to cross.
“We are legally responsible until the child is discharged from the bus,” Richards said. “That includes the act of crossing.”
Richards did give a shout out to the Lummi Nation. He said bus drivers rarely see other drivers blow past their stop paddles on the reservation. And after the few times that did happen, Richards said he would sometimes return to his office and there would be a phone message from a concerned local parent, giving them the license plate number of the driver who didn’t stop.
“There seems to be a community effort to keep the kids safe,” Richards said of the Lummi Nation.
All in all, Richards and Rosser urged everyone to be patient and alert while driving in the early morning and afternoons, when school buses roam the streets.
And don’t forget: just like students having to be reminded of classroom etiquette in September, bus drivers can make some mistakes too during the beginning of the school year -- especially if they’re new to the district or have been assigned a new route.
“Everyone is re-learning this process when we come back in September: the kids, the drivers, the bus drivers,” Richards said. “Everyone’s rusty.”