School Bus Safety Week: Biking with Buses

For the past year, the Boston Public Health Commission partnered with MassBike and LivableStreets Alliance to create trainings for the City of Boston’s Public Works Department and school bus drivers statewide focused on interactions with vulnerable road users. This work was funded by a grant from the Partnership for Healthy Cities, an international network to which Boston belongs, with the goal of creating a training that ensures people driving large trucks and school buses have the empathy and skills to drive safely around people riding their bikes. Over the last few months, we’ve talked to bus drivers at the School Transportation Association of Massachusetts (STAM) Conference and municipal vehicle drivers to learn more about their unique challenges on the road.

In honor of School Bus Safety Week, we’re bringing you some of the valuable lessons we’ve learned working with bus and municipal vehicle drivers that will keep everyone safer while biking, walking, and rolling around buses and other large vehicles. School buses and trucks present unique challenges due to their size and restricted visibility. For cyclists, sharing the road with these large vehicles demands an extra dose of caution and awareness. Here are some valuable tips and tricks to ensure your biking experience around buses and other large vehicles remains safe and stress-free.

Follow these tips to avoid a conflict like this one

School Bus Drivers Want You to Know

When a school bus’s lights are flashing and the stop sign is out, students are either getting on or off the bus. During school bus student drop off and pick up, the stop sign on the bus means stop! When you see a school bus stop sign, always come to a full stop until the sign has been disengaged. It may be tempting to try to pass when the bus is stopped, but that can put school children in danger as they can be either exiting the bus or trying to cross the street in front of the vehicle.

Be Aware of Blind Spots

Bus drivers experience considerable blind spots, making it essential for cyclists to position themselves strategically. These unseen areas surround the bus from all sides, with the right mirror often focusing on the rear wheel. Although bus drivers are taught to diligently check their mirrors every few seconds, there's no guarantee they'll spot you. To maximize your visibility, consider riding either ahead of or behind the bus. This grants you better visibility and a safer buffer zone.


Evading the Right Hook Hazard

Avoiding the notorious right hook, or getting struck by a vehicle turning right when you are going straight, requires an understanding of bus behavior. As buses approach intersections or stops, it's crucial to avoid riding parallel to them. Instead, always pass on the left side and steer clear of their blind spots. Keep in mind that these blind spots can shift during right turns, rendering you less visible. To steer clear of this hazard, apply your brakes gently and maintain a safe distance behind the bus.


Embracing Key Principles for Safer Cycling

Predictability & Visibility: Enhance your visibility by employing hand signals while turning, and ensure you're well-equipped with bright front and rear lights if you're biking in the dark. These simple steps drastically improve your chances of being seen by all drivers.

Patience & Space: Buses require an extended distance to come to a halt, approximately 1.5 bus lengths. To minimize potential conflicts, maintain a considerable gap either ahead of or behind the bus. And ensure that when the school bus’s lights are flashing, and the stop arm is out, you come to a complete stop to allow children to get on or off the bus.

Anticipation: Anticipating scenarios at intersections is a skill that can prevent right-hook situations. Never aligning yourself parallel to a bus approaching an intersection is the best way to effectively eliminate this risk.

Communication: Just like with any vehicle, eye contact, and polite gestures go a long way in ensuring mutual awareness. Employ your hand signals to communicate your intentions clearly. Don't be surprised if a friendly "honk honk" from a bus driver signifies their intention to pass.

Biking around buses demands a blend of vigilance and effective communication. By keeping these tips and tricks in mind, you'll not only ride safer but also help create smoother interactions between cyclists and bus drivers. 

Find more on our Biking with Buses resource page, MassBike initially created with LivableStreets Alliance and has been updated with information from our Boston Health Commission Partnership. We’re grateful to the Partnership for Healthy Cities for providing the funding to expand our initial bus driver training program to include more large vehicle operators, including school buses and municipal utility vehicles.