Using reference point driving to navigate your buses to avoid collisions

Over the years, some businesses have transitioned from 15-passenger vans to Type-B integrated school buses to increase passenger safety. Frequent auto loss activity reported involved backing accidents, hitting parked vehicles, and sideswipe impacts. This may indicate that the wider and heavier chassis are more challenging to navigate versus their slimmer and lighter predecessors.

Using vehicle reference points can help a driver improve their ability to operate a vehicle safely.

According to the Pennsylvania School Bus Driver’s Manual, a reference point is some fixed object or point on your bus that, when lined up with points outside the bus, will give you consistent reference to judge when to turn, move, stop, line up your bus, or judge the amount of space available around your bus. Any point on the bus such as the door, outside mirrors, windshield center post, bus hood, front and rear bumpers, etc., can be used as a reference point. These points are easily detectable and readily seen by you in the driving position. The distance or guidelines outside the bus are then predetermined by direct measurement or observation before you use your bus for the first time. Once these points are determined and you are comfortable with the understanding of what each reference point is telling you, these points should remain constant.

This manual further provides a few simple steps for determining reference points on your bus:

  1. Position yourself comfortably in your driver’s seat;
  2. Pick an easily observable point on the hood or windshield of your bus;
  3. With the help of someone outside your bus (if possible), on a conventional style bus, find the point on the ground where the edge of the hood lines up with the point on the ground directly in front of it. For a transit style bus, use some point on the windshield to mark your point on the ground in front of the bus;
  4. Once you determine this point, note it in your mind and remember it for future reference; and
  5. Remember to do this in your own bus, since the point of reference may change from bus to bus depending on the height of the driver’s seat and the model of the bus. 

For determining reference points to the side or rear of your bus, make sure you are seated comfortably in your seat with seat belt attached. Then, mark points on the various outside rear view mirrors on either side of your bus.

To determine the point directly below your rear bumper, use a point in your left (or right) rear view mirror that lines up directly over the bottom of your left rear wheel well and your rear bumper. Now, measure the distance from this point on the ground to the edge of your rear bumper; remember this distance. You should use reference points on both left and right rear mirrors. This rear reference point can be helpful when estimating the distance form your rear bumper to some point on the ground and can be especially helpful at a railroad grade crossing when determining the distance of your rear bumper from the track.

Finally, remember these measurements should be made and will only be applicable on level ground. Adjust your front and rear measurements when your bus is stopped on a sloped surface.


Reference: Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (2012), Pennsylvania School Bus Driver’s Manual – PUB 117, Harrisburg, PA

The information provided in this article is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be considered as all encompassing, or suitable for all situations, conditions, and environments. Please contact us or your attorney if you have any questions.

For safety or risk management questions or suggestions, please contact Markel.

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