My least favourite job when I ran a before and after school program was waiting for the school bus. It wasn’t the standing for forty-five minutes, or even the brisk winter cold that made me dread the task. It was the anxiety.
The kids were picked up on a stretch of grass and sidewalk between a busy road and a parking lot. The kids thought I was the meanest teacher ever for making them all stay almost within arms distance from me, refusing to let them run or horse around, and for lining them up well before the bus reached us.
I wasn’t trying to cramp their style – I simply had a horror of them getting just a little too close to the road or parking lot, and a driver not paying close enough attention.
I had reason to worry. It was rare a day went by that someone didn’t fly by the flashing lights of the school bus. I assumed they were simply self-obsessed jerks, but tragic recent events show they may have been distracted drivers.
Five children were killed, and several seriously injured, in three accidents at school bus stops over the span of three days. The details are heartbreaking, and I will spare you the specifics, but the take away is that three drivers couldn’t commit to focusing all of their attention on the road where it belonged, and five children paid for the drivers’ indiscretions with their lives.
Growing up, I had school bus safety was drilled into me. My aunt had her arm run over by a school bus in the 50s, a result of crowding to get on the bus and one of the reasons I was militant about bus lines, so my dad passed along his bus stop paranoia to me. The school doubled down on the safety talks.
We were taught to make sure we crossed well in front of the bus and made eye contact with the driver. We knew to sit on our bottoms inside the bus, and face forward at all times. My own children, who are not bus students, have taken bus safety seminars at school and brought home colouring books to remind them of the safety tips they had learned.
We worry so much about teaching our children school bus safety, and rightly so, while one of the biggest threats to the safety of bus riders seems to be other drivers on the road. And not just at the bus stop.
Just today, a car was driving half in our lane for a stretch of road. My husband correctly predicted he was on his phone. It was by far not the first time we had played out that scenario.
We know impaired driving is a no, and more and more we see people making plans and taking steps to ensure they will not get behind the wheel while under the influence.
Why can’t we ditch the phones too? I wonder if it is the, “Just for a second” mentality. You don’t drive impaired “just for a second,” you do it for the entirety of the trip. But I wonder if people think it’s okay to just check their phone really quick, or send a fast text, because it’s not like they are doing it the whole time they are driving.
What they miss is that lives can change, including their own, in that short period of time.
Five children are gone, in three days, because of those, “Just a second”s, and that is unacceptable.
No text is worth it. None. If it is that important, pull over. If you can’t resist the temptation, put your phone in your trunk, or somewhere out of reach, and leave it there until you reach your destination.
And it isn’t just phone use. We talk with some cheeky amusement at the people we have seen doing their make up, or shaving, while they drive. I once saw someone eating soup from a pot between his legs. It seems funny in the abstract, but it’s not.
The truth is, when you are driving, that is your sole responsibility, and it is a big one.
You are operating a machine capable of killing people, and you need to give that the reverence it deserves.
Focus on driving. Nothing else matters in that moment, just driving. Be responsible. Be aware. Be honest with yourself about whether you are in the right frame of mind to be driving. Be wide awake. Be sober. Be careful. Be focused. Drive like lives depend on it – because they do.