Behind The Scenes
A Day in the Life of A Plainfield Bus Driver
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
Linette Legg met her husband on her school bus route when she was a freshman in high school. Not only did Legg find love on a bus, but she also discovered a love for bus driving — as did her hubby. Both are school bus drivers for the Plainfield Community School Corporation.
“We’ve been married for 51 years now,” says Legg, who has been driving buses for the Plainfield Community School Corporation for 42 years. Over time, the number of buses and bus drivers has grown as the town has expanded. Currently, the corporation has 49 school buses and two small activity buses.
“For the past five years, we have been able to handle growth by purchasing larger buses,” says Steve Dayhuff, Director of Transportation for Plainfield Community Schools. “Today, we have 38 full-time bus drivers, 11 substitute drivers, and we transport approximately 4,000 students daily.”
Though bus drivers are a great service to the community, in many ways it’s an unheralded job. Every morning bus drivers report to work prior to departure for their pre-trip inspection where they check that lights, breaks, turn signals, stop arms, emergency doors and other safety features are working properly. During the winter, they also have to leave time to scrape snow and ice off of windshields.
For the most part, a driver is assigned the same morning and afternoon routes so that students can get to know their drivers and vice versa. This is key as building solid relationships is crucial in life.
“[I appreciate] the special friendships that I form both with other bus drivers and with some of my students,” Legg says. “Several of my former students still contact me with cards, phone calls and Facebook messages on a regular basis. Relationships are definitely the best things in life.”
If you were to dissect most any school corporation’s transportation department, you would find that when it comes to smooth operation, precision is vital. The morning dispatcher gets to the office, bright and early, to juggle next steps when drivers call in sick.
“We have 85 routes, which equates to the buses making 170 runs a day,” Dayhuff says.
Plus, the department is always looking to create not only the most efficient routes but also the safest ones. For instance, they always try picking up students on the door side of the bus so that children aren’t crossing county roads. And boy, are those roads traveled. According to Dayhuff, last year their buses traveled approximately 400,000 miles.
“This is a combined total of routes and extra-curricular trips,” Dayhuff says.
Trying to organize all of that is no easy task, especially since it’s not unusual for things to get assigned in the eleventh hour. When it comes to a school bus driver’s greatest challenge, however, roundabouts likely top the list. That’s partly because many people don’t know that it’s both dangerous and illegal to pass a bus in a roundabout. Then there are the impatient drivers who try to get around a bus when the stop arm is extended.
Video footage abounds on the internet that shows some of the dangerous ways aggressive drivers behave when they get antsy behind a bus. Some people try passing a bus on the right. Some jump the curb and go through a yard. In addition, buses have been hit by distracted drivers who are looking down at their phones rather than paying attention to the road in front of them.
It’s wise for the public to be cognizant of the fact that a school bus is 40 feet long. There’s eight feet to the bus behind the rear axle so when that turns, the part of that bus that’s behind the axle swings into the adjacent lane. Bottom line: exercise patience and give buses space.
Think about how difficult it is to concentrate in your own car with just a handful of passengers. What if you had 78 kids in your backseat? To navigate a large vehicle, pay attention to the road, be a defensive driver and still act as an authority figure to your students is multitasking at its best. Not to mention there are twice as many students on a bus as in a classroom and they’re all sitting behind you.
Though bus drivers don’t have eyes in the backs of their heads, every bus is equipped with cameras, which help minimize behavior issues, including roughhousing and bullying. The buses have been equipped with VHS tapes for years, but today’s digital videos are crystal clear. Some equipment is so high-tech that corporations can zoom in and see the text in a book a student is reading.
Bus drivers remind students that they’re being recorded because it’s a great deterrent in reducing discipline problems like throwing bottles or hurling things out a window. Cameras also come in handy when the department gets a call from a parent, relaying a story of something that their child told them happened on the bus. The department reviews footage to determine the story’s accuracy.
These cameras offer protection for the parent, the student and the driver because cameras tell the truth every time. And that’s what it’s all about — taking care of precious cargo.
“I don’t think folks understand the enormous responsibility we have as bus drivers,” Legg says. “We are responsible for the safety and well-being of their precious children and grandchildren. We don’t take that for granted.”