School bus driver Herb Quayle starts his day before the sun rises. Arriving at the school bus yard, he completes his pre-bus inspection before taking it out on the road. Quayle has seen a lot of good sunrises during his almost-50-year-career of being a bus driver in the Mt. Pleasant Community School District.
Students are Quayle and bus drivers’ alike number one priority. “If they don’t feel safe getting on the bus, where do they feel safe?” Quayle asked ahead of National School Bus Safety Week, the third full week of October every year. This year, the reminder to get students to the bus stop safely, share the road and do regular bus maintenance is from Oct. 22 to 26.
The first job of a bus driver is to drive safely. MPCSD bus drivers kicked off October by completing three hours of annual, mandatory continuing education. While the training is to remind drivers to keep their licenses and permits up to date, each year has a varying topic. Human trafficking was a topic of conversation during the training this year.
“We are exposed to a lot of children and kind of have an idea of a sad or happy child,” explained Ted Carlson, director of transportation with the MPCSD. “We are out on the roads a lot and have the opportunity to see a lot of things.”
School bus safety week is a reminder to bus drivers how important their jobs are, Carlson said. It’s getting up early, dealing with snow, ice and muddy roads and looking after students before and after school. “They have a tough job and they do deserve recognition. I try my best to make sure they’re well appreciated,” he said.
One of the best safety features added to buses since Carlson began 18 years ago is cameras on the outside of the bus. They can get very clear pictures of people who illegally drive past the buses’ stop arms.
“That’s a serious nationwide problem,” Carlson said. “It happens over 70,000 times a day nationally. That’s my number one is trying to prevent stop arm passing.”
Carlson doesn’t know how any driver can miss the flashing lights of a stopped school bus, but in Mt. Pleasant, Carlson estimates there are 20 to 35 stop arm passings a year.
“I always tell people if you see a school bus, it’s going to stop,” Carlson said. “They need to just focus. My cameras are so good on the side of the buses that we can see the driver, and I would bet 80 to 90 percent of the time they’re staring down at their phones.”
Carlson is proud of his drivers, however, who he says are really good and conscientious. The kids on their buses are just like their own, he said. If they notice a student doesn’t seem to be doing well, they suggest calling the school and checking in.
“Many children, the first adult they’ll see is the school bus driver,” Carlson said. “They come on the bus and if they have a good relationship with the driver, they tell them about their life, everything going on. Sometimes it’s not happy, but a lot of times a child just needs to reach out to somebody and a lot of times that’s a bus driver.”
Larry Krabill, a bus driver who retired in May with 60 years of service, said he enjoyed everything about being a bus driver. The drivers themselves became like family. Over the many decades, very few students gave Krabill any trouble.
“It wasn’t hard work, it was fun,” Krabill said.
Krabill, who began driving a country route in 1958 and knew everyone on it, misses the work immensely, and like Quayle, says he saw unbelievable sunrises.
After decades of hauling children, Quayle has been praised by former students for the safety they felt on his bus. He goes above and beyond for the students who ride his bus. During bad weather when his bus couldn’t make it up a hill to pick up a student waiting at the bus stop, he got out of the bus, walked to that student and walked her back to the bus in the snow.
Through each season, whether it be beautifully sunny, foggy or snowy, Quayle says, “Keep going and keep your eyes open.”