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Vaughn: Why trucking must take extra care during football season

Sept. 14, 2023
Chartered buses full of athletes will take to roadways as the leaves begin to turn, so drivers must be vigilant when navigating around these vehicles with their own unique safety risks.

You may recall the 2004 movie “Friday Night Lights” or the 2006-2011 TV series of the same name. According to its producers, “Friday Night Lights” depicted the “intense and sometimes extreme culture of high school football in small Texas towns.”

The show also included scenes that trucking company fleet managers and truck drivers should take to heart—team buses traveling the roads to and from games, meets, and other athletic contests, often late at night.

To be clear, these aren’t just the yellow school buses picking up and delivering school kids across our communities. Professional truck drivers on those local streets and roads should already know how to drive safely around school buses:

  • Yellow flashing lights indicate that the bus is preparing to stop to load or unload children. Slow down and prepare to stop.
  • Red flashing lights and extended stop arms indicate the bus has stopped, and children are getting on or off. Stop! Wait until the red lights stop flashing, the extended stop-arm is withdrawn, and the bus begins moving before starting to drive again—always on alert for the children.

See also: Vaughn: How trucking can take control of federal regulations

Athletic teams often travel on buses owned by charter companies or the school district that look nothing like a traditional school bus. They are out on the open road, mixing with commercial and passenger traffic. They may look like intercity commercial buses and operate under the same federal and state safety regulations, but their safety performance makes them worthy of extra caution:

  • In 2005, a bus carrying a women's hockey intermediate league team veered off a New York highway into a truck parked on the shoulder. The bus driver fell asleep at the wheel after picking up the team at 3:30 a.m. earlier that day.
  • In 2007, a chartered bus transporting a men’s college baseball team in Georgia crashed into and then over a low wall, dropping to the freeway below. The driver, unfamiliar with the route, had mistakenly taken an HOV-only exit that could not accommodate buses.
  • In 2016, four died and 42 were injured in North Carolina when a bus carrying a college football team blew a tire and crossed the highway median.

These and many other athletic team bus crashes often share a common cause: Many schools and school districts hire by price and availability, assuming all bus services operate safely. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulates commercial buses, just as it regulates trucks. But the term “FMCSA” might as well be Greek to many schools. No wonder school district budget officers don’t keep FMCSA safety ratings at the top of their mind. Thankfully, many charter bus companies and bus drivers operate safely. But during the season of “Friday Night Lights,” or any time during the year, remind your professional drivers to exercise a little extra care around buses on the highway:

  • Like trucks, buses have large blind spots. Be sure the bus driver can see you in the mirror before passing or changing lanes near a bus.
  • Like trucks, buses have long stopping distances. Don’t cut in front. Give them room to slow down and stop if necessary.
  • Charter bus drivers may be unfamiliar with the route. They may hesitate or may dart quickly at highway exits. Stay back, so you can adjust and slow down or stop as needed.
  • The presence of those athletic team buses may have you turning on your radio to capture the sports scores and highlights from the games they just left. But keep your attention on the road so you can all arrive home safely.

Steve Vaughn is senior vice president of field operations at PrePass Safety Alliance, the provider of PrePass weigh station bypass and electronic toll payment and management services. Vaughn served nearly three decades with the California Highway Patrol and is a past president of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance.

About the Author

Steve Vaughn | Senior Vice President of Field Operations

Steve Vaughn is senior vice president of field operations at PrePass Safety Alliance, the provider of PrePass weigh station bypass and electronic toll-payment and management services. Vaughn served nearly three decades with the California Highway Patrol and is a past president of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance.

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