So, more lessons from being a real school bus driver, not just a skoolie.
I have to start with a news story from last Thursday (December 11), where a school bus driver slid the back of his bus into the open door of a parked car, catching a pregnant woman’s arm as the door was forced closed (and another report). The weather was snowy, with rain that had turned to snow overnight.
The video from the surveillance camera (in the first link) really nicely shows what happened. It’s obvious that the driver had the bus in drive and the wheels spun as the bus tried to get going, but then they caught, and then spun again, causing the bus to slide into the woman’s car and catching her arm. Now, for people who are used to gasoline powered cars, it must look like the driver stepped down hard on the pedal, let off, then stepped down hard again, but that’s not likely to be the case. The diesel engines in these buses are slow to ramp up. Yes, you can step down hard on the pedal, and the bus will go, but it’s not as reactive as a gas engine.
You might also ask if the street is slanted. I used to drive the route and the driver is only on that street for one block (unless they’ve changed something serious since October), and the street is nice and flat. Why then would the bus slide like that? Well, for one thing, it was empty (the driver is out of my terminal, and I heard the report on the radio), he being almost an hour late due to the weather and not having had his first stop’s student on the bus (otherwise, as you can see in the video, he wouldn’t be able to get off the bus).
Now, you might not think that the kids on the bus weigh alot, but the buses that size can now carry 58 students (they were standard 65 student buses, but the upgraded seats that all have three-point harnesses cut that down), and we carry all the spectrum from pre-kindergarten to eighth grade students. If you figure a simple 85 pounds per student, you’re looking at just about two and a half tons of kids in the buses weight. This makes a huge difference not only in acceleration and braking speeds and distances, but also in handling, as these buses are rear-wheel drive, front-engine buses.
As it was for my run on that day, I ended up getting to my school fifteen minutes late, and spent most of my run 10 minutes late, but not because I felt the roads were so slippery. Coming out of our yard and heading to the start point of my route (in my empty bus), I noted the slippery aspect of the roads, and dropped my gearing from drive (which worked fine in the gravel of the bus lot) down to second, due to the thin film of slippery slushy snow under all the fluffy snow of the five or six inches that were on the roads.
One of the things this did was limit my buses’ top speed down to 25 miles per hour (which isn’t a big deal since the speed limit in the city is 30 mph), but also kept the bus from shifting down as quickly. This made it easier to get and keep traction. I also started braking a little earlier, since people stomping on the brakes to stop suddenly and then stomping on the gas to get going at intersections makes them extra slippery. But here’s a place where driving the bus actually helps – your drive and dual braking tires are in the back, farther behind where cars tend to make slippery. So I actually found the driving to be fine. No slips, no slides, no being out of control. And the more students I picked up, the better it got, as I got more weight over my drive wheels in the back.
My lateness was due to accidents that I had to pass and other drivers who were not driving safely. And while I understand that not everyone is as comfortable in winter driving as I am, everyone should be as aware of how to drive in these weather conditions, just in case.
It also makes me much more comfortable with the prospect of driving the skoolie through inclement weather. Due to the built in nature of the furniture and appliances (and the water tank, when that goes in), there should be plenty of stable weight to maintain control. Plus, manual transmissions help out a lot in situations like this. If I could go back to Thursday and change my bus from an automatic to a standard, I probably would have had an even more enjoyable day, driving-in-that-weather-wise (but probably not for the amount of stop-signs on my route!).
But the bus accident above was another really good reminder of how a driver has to be really careful all the time. As much as the street the driver was on was a one-way street, he should never have been that close to that car anyhow. The video certainly makes it look like he could have been another foot or more over toward the right side of the street. Does that accident come down to poor judgement and the bad luck to hit an extra-slippery bit of street? Probably. But that sort of thing scares me silly, so I try to drive carefully.
As we all should.