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Why School Buses Stop at Railroad Tracks

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Why School Buses Stop at Railroad Tracks

School buses always stop and open their doors at railroad tracks. The reason behind it is quite tragic.

If you’ve ever ridden on or driven behind a school bus, you might have noticed that they stop at all railroad tracks, regardless of whether there is an oncoming train. The driver stops, opens the window and the door, and listens before heading along.

To some, that might seem like a waste of time, or at least like an overcautious safety measure. But like many traffic laws, it was a tragedy that led to this one. To understand why school buses stop at railroad tracks, we need to go back to Sandy, Utah, on December 1, 1938, when the worst school bus accident in United States history occurred.

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A snowstorm had been raging near Jordan High School, where bus driver Farrold “Slim” Silcox was taking a group of 39 students. When he arrived at a railroad crossing at 300 West and slightly north of 10600 South (don’t look for it, it doesn’t exist anymore), he stopped to look for a train, but the visibility was near-zero. Because he’d never seen a train there in over three years of driving over the tracks, he began to cross.

This time, though, there was a train. “The Flying Ute” had been heading north from Denver, running an hour late because of the blizzard. It collided with the school bus at 60 miles per hour, dragging it for nearly half a mile before it could stop. Slim Silcox and 25 students died.

Since then, the law has required school bus drivers to not only stop at all railroad crossings but also to open their door and side window and listen before proceeding. Some may call it overcautious, but no such tragedy has occurred since then, and as long as bus drivers continue to obey the law, it never should.

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For more on school bus safety as we observe Student Safety Month this June, check out our school bus safety tips that you as a driver can follow and read up on these school bus facts and figures using our educational infographic.