Rising early and safety keys to driving bus

Kayla Lehman
Special to the Outlook
Tina Hutchins

“Being a bus driver is challenging because you’re hauling other people’s children; that’s the most important thing to remember,” explained Tina Hutchins, one of the drivers for the Laurel School District. A normal day for Hutchins starts at 6 a.m. On cold mornings, the buses are started at 5:30 a.m., an hour before the first route. Hutchins’s route starts around 6:30 a.m. and her bus is back in the bus barn by 8:30 a.m.
Hutchins got her CDL in 2000, in Wisconsin; she’s driven bus in Laurel for four years and subbed in Laurel for a year while she drove for Park City.
“I had kids at home so it worked well while they were in school,” she said.
On average, around 660 students are picked up by a Laurel school bus every day. Hutchins’s bus transports 30 students daily. The bus routes span from Neibauer Road to Moser Dome and from 56th Street to Pope Road. All of the buses have set pick-up times for each house so the drivers are responsible for staying on track.
For safety, every bus is equipped with cameras, radios and four-wheel-drive, and there is always someone back at the office ready to help in case of an emergency. Hutchins’s bus has assigned seating for the students. She believes, “it’s a safety feature, but it’s also for comfort; every child knows they have a spot when they get on the bus.”
Each bus is inspected twice a year by the Montana Highway Patrol.
“The final decision to drive in conditions is always the driver,” Hutchins noted. “Whether it’s a route or an extracurricular activity trip, the driver has the final say.”
That’s confirmed by Zada Stamper.
“It’s all about proper training and going slow,” said Stamper, who took over as director of transportation in July. “We don’t tell our bus drivers to hurry, it’s better to go slow and be safe.” For the previous 10 years, Stamper worked as the assistant transportation director and as an assistant for the community education program. Now, Stamper organizes the routes and schedules drivers for all of the events for all of the schools​.
There are requirements in addition to training in order to become a bus driver. Drivers must be 21-years-old, have a high school diploma and five years’ driving experience. Driving for a school also entails passing a background check and being finger printed. A clean driving record is needed and every one to two years, drivers must pass a DOT physical. Drivers must accumulate 10 hours of training every year as well.
“A lot of times, people see a yellow bus and try to get in front of it, so that’s where we have to be even more cautious.”
“I love driving bus and I love being around kids. The same kids get on your bus every day, so you get to know them all.” Being around the kids is just one of the advantages of being a bus driver. The scheduling is very flexible, especially for those with families. “There are more challenges than disadvantages when it comes to being a bus driver, but you do have to be a morning person.”


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