Bus drivers on front line of safety

HOPE – There are some 2,000 miles of county roadways alone in Hempstead County, excluding city streets and state and federal highways; and, the 27 bus drivers of the Hope Public Schools Transportation Department travel a big chunk of them daily piloting school buses loaded with the most precious cargo… children.

“We all have a general area that stays, basically, the same; and it’s very seldom that it changes because we have so much space,” veteran bus driver Mike Yarbrough explains.

Yarbrough has been driving school buses full time for the HPS for 25 years.

“There is so much that is different from when I went to school in the Sixties,” he noted. “Back then, you didn’t get to have free breakfast and free lunch.”

But, Yarbrough said, there were school buses.

“What has happened over the years is different rule changes from the state,” he said. “They’ve changed in how we deal with the students and parents; and, the limitations on the drivers.”

Most, he said, are for the better.

“We have to do more because of changes in jobs,” Yarbrough said.

Bus drivers wear multiple hats these days, from transportation to safety education. Drivers conducted school bus evacuation exercises at HPS campuses during School Bus Safety Week, Oct. 21-25.

Yarbrough said the school bus driver is the first teacher a child encounters in the Hope Public Schools.

“The real young ones we have to teach them to get into non-play mode when they get on the bus,” he said. “In the mornings, they are more receptive; but, in the afternoon, they are in play mode.”

Yarbrough has driven the Patmos area route for the past five years.

“I started with Avenue B and Hopewell Loop for 20 years before that,” he said. “Each driver gets acquainted with one area.”

And, over time, a driver sees generational changes and learns about the families on his or her route.

“I love communicating with people; and, kids, particularly,” Yarbrough said. “Through the years, I’ve found the kids are looking for someone to communicate with; and, they want to engage you.”

A concern for Yarbrough is changes in motorist attitudes, he said. Where, once, motorists respected the presence of a school bus on the road, that isn’t so much the case anymore.

“There is not as much public cooperation as before,” Yarbrough said. “People are not as attentive.”

The overuse of cell phones and text messaging while driving creates distracted drivers which school bus drivers must be aware of while on the road, he said.