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Back on the Road Again

Love them or hate them, school buses weave through the fabric of our experience

One way or another, school buses take us all back to school.
    As well as ever-safer and more standardized transport, they’re vehicles of cultural passage. Via the school bus, the freedom of childhood passes to the regimented life of schedules and hurry, bells and detentions. Mother lets go your hand and the motorized door opens to the wide world.
    Little wonder school buses also travel our cultural byways as icons of rebellion.
    In the fermenting 1960s, counter-cultural pioneer and novelist Ken Kesey (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Sometimes a Great Notion) gave a Day-Glo paint job to a 1939 International Harvester school bus. Christened Further, it transported Kesey’s Merry Band of Pranksters cross-country and into the psychedelic age.
    In the adaptive 1970s, the wholesome Partridge Family joined the revolution, driving a 1957 Chevrolet school bus purchased by the Orange County (Calif.) School District to television stardom. For their staged rebellion, ABC painted the bus in color blocks in the style of the abstract Dutch painter Piet Mondrian.
    In the irreverent 1990s, The Simpsons featured school bus driver Otto Mann, an aging delinquent who aided and abetted kids’ efforts to tip the bus as it rounded corners.
    That, of course, is against the rules. Real-life school bus drivers are careful citizens who go through double licensing before they can get behind the wheel of a bus full of Maryland kids. As well as commercial driving licenses, school bus drivers have commercial drivers have two endorsements: P for any vehicle carrying over 15 passengers plus S for school buses.
    Kids are supposed to sit tight in their compartmentalized seats and not torment the driver, the bus or each other.
    We who share the road with school buses have responsibilities, too.
    According to Maryland Transportation Article, Section 21-706, If a school vehicle is stopping or has stopped, and is operating the alternately flashing warning lights, the driver of any other vehicle meeting or overtaking the school vehicle shall stop at least 20 feet from the rear of the school vehicle (if approaching the school vehicle from the rear), or 20 feet from the front of the school vehicle (if approaching the school vehicle from the front), and may not proceed until the school vehicle resumes motion or deactivates the alternately flashing warning lights.
    “More children are injured outside a school bus than inside,” says Annapolis school bus dealer Steve Leonard. “Motorists think they can zoom through before the bus lights change from yellow to red. But they’re not thinking of the darting child, who isn’t thinking of them.”
    Read this week’s feature story, The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round, and you’ll you’ll never look at a school bus the same way.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com