As students return to school, parents, teachers, and administrators do everything possible to ensure their safety. School buses help students reliably and safely get to school on time every day. Unlike on a city bus, a school bus driver not only navigates the roadways but also supervises minor passengers and monitors student behavior.

Michigan law requires school bus drivers transporting pupils to or from school or school-related events to complete an entry-level school bus safety education course. They must also complete a six-hour continuing education course within two years after the entry-level certification and each succeeding two years after that. The course includes safety training, role-playing exercises, anti-bullying information, age-appropriate de-escalation techniques and behavior management instruction, and first aid training. Drivers are also required to pass a federal Department of Transportation physical every two years.

Like other drivers, a bus driver must drive with reasonable care and the skill expected of a competent driver. They owe this duty to other road users and the passengers on their bus. Unlike other drivers, they must execute this duty while policing a few dozen children, who may be yelling, improperly moving around the vehicle, or otherwise creating hazardous conditions. The Michigan Appellate Court ruled in Nolan v. Bronson (1990) that:

The duty of care required of a school bus driver for the benefit of a passenger is the care a reasonable person would exercise under the circumstances. Under some circumstances, a school bus driver’s duty of care will extend further than simply discharging a passenger in a reasonably safe place.

The state board of education and local school districts require that school bus drivers exercise a high degree of care for the safety of their student passengers. Depending on local rules and conduct regulations, their job duties may include ensuring that they:

  • Drop students off in a safe place.
  • Escort elementary pupils who must cross the road after exiting the school bus to the roadway’s centerline to assure the pupils’ safety.
  • Exercise a high degree of care for the safety of passengers who must cross the highway after being discharged.
  • Enforce the school district’s rule that students must get off a bus at their assigned bus stop.
  • Report any violations of student safety rules.

Over the summer of 2020, four new bills were passed relating to Michigan school bus safety. Two of these bills prohibit any unauthorized person from entering a school bus without the permission of the school bus driver and authorize markings on the exterior of the bus explaining this prohibition. The other two bills permit school buses in the state to be equipped with a stop-arm camera system that provides photo or video evidence of a motorist illegally passing a stopped school bus when the bus’s red flashing lights are activated. These laws support bus drivers’ efforts to protect students, but they rely on drivers taking appropriate safety measures.

As the 2020-21 school year begins, federal mask mandates require that students and drivers wear face masks or coverings on school buses to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. (There are exemptions for those age two or younger, those with a disability that prevents mask-wearing, and those for whom wearing a mask would create a risk to workplace health or safety.) Bus drivers play a vital role in enforcing this directive, supported by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

The safety of Michigan students is paramount to the success of all state residents. Bus drivers work hard to ensure that students can attend school and return home safely.

Kenneth T. Watkins

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Kenneth T. Watkins

Kenneth T. Watkins is an accomplished trial attorney and Senior Shareholder with Sommers Schwartz. Over the course of his career, he has obtained numerous multimillion-dollar settlements. His achievements include one of the largest seven-digit medical malpractice cases in Macomb County in 2008, and his election to membership in the exclusive Million Dollar Verdict Club.