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One driver's keys: patience, paying attention
By TIMES STAFF
Published October 29, 2007
Jon Cluff drives students to three different Hillsborough schools while also training other drivers.
Each day, Jon Cluff's job is to drive Hillsborough County students safely to and from school. Between morning and afternoon runs to Armwood High, Burnett Middle and McDonald Elementary, he trains other drivers.
Two high-profile school bus accidents this year have called attention to driver safety. Cluff, 65, has lots of tips.
In a recent talk with the St. Petersburg Times, he discussed what makes a good bus driver, the challenges of steering a big yellow bus and how to quiet rowdy students.
What are some key safety tips?
The first thing I tell them is patience: Patience with the students and patience with the other drivers on the road. The other thing is attention, paying attention to your driving.
Who would not make a good bus driver?
One that lacks patience, is always in a hurry, wants to be ahead of everybody else, and wants to be on time all the time. The impatient person would not make a good school bus driver. Chances are they're going to have a bad driving record anyway.
What is it like to drive a school bus?
It's basically like driving a car, but it's much bigger. The turning of a school bus, because they're up to 40 feet long, can be a real challenge, especially for new drivers.
Did anything surprise you when you started driving?
The difficulty of controlling the students on the bus. Sometimes it's okay, but other times, like Friday afternoons, they tend to be more disturbing on the bus than they should be.
It's very hard to drive when the students are not staying in their seats, are making too much noise and are doing things they are not allowed to do.
How do you settle them down?
About the best way, and there's no super bullet here, is to pull off in a safe parking spot. Park the bus and get up and talk to the students involved about their conduct and how it makes it unsafe for you to drive. It must discontinue, or else they will be referred to the school officials.
What's the best part of driving a school bus?
I enjoy being able to relate to the students on the bus and in a small way trying to encourage them to improve their conduct. The other thing about it is, I enjoy driving on the road. Want some more safety tips?
Are there more you want to share?
Well, following distance, of course. You have to be at least four seconds behind the vehicle in front of you whenever possible. When the roads are wet, you extend that to six seconds for a bus.
When you're stopped in a road waiting to make a left turn, and you have your signal on, and you have to wait for oncoming traffic: You keep your wheels straight. Don't turn them left, because if you're rear ended, you'll have a head-on collision.