300:29:1

Cryptic, isn’t it? I am sure you are wondering why on earth I would title my blog with something so inane as some random numbers.

300:29:1 is a safety standard that myself and many others who work in the transportation industry strive to adhere to. The basic principle was conceived by a man named Herbert William Heinrich, an American industrial safety pioneer who published a book in 1931 called “Industrial Accident Prevention, A Scientific Approach”. Basically he came up with a formula known simply as  “Heinrich’s Law: that in a workplace, for every accident that causes a major injury, there are 29 accidents that cause minor injuries and 300 accidents that cause no injuries.” In other words, for every 300 unsafe acts, there are 29 acts that cause minor injuries and 1 act that causes major injuries up to and including death.

Last week my division experienced that one act. An experienced driver was driving past an elementary school at the same time that the kindergarten classes were changing from the morning group to the afternoon group. One of those children, a little boy, saw his mother parking her car across the street and darted away from his teacher. Before anyone could stop him he ran out into the street from between a couple of parked cars right into the path of the bus. He was struck and killed in the blink of an eye and now an entire community is mourning the loss of this precious child.

When a tragedy such as this strikes it affects more than just the victim or the driver involved in the actual incident. As drivers, we are a pretty close-knit bunch. Many of us hang out together after work. We celebrate birthdays and graduations, anniversaries and divorces (yes, we do!!), and we are there for each other when things aren’t so great either.

We knew something had happened–there was a little bit of traffic on the radio, then silence. We all continued with our routes, but other drivers who drove that same route were diverted and they came back with stories of yellow caution tape, fire trucks and cop cars, and we all knew it had to be really bad. Then someone who had been on the bus involved in the accident apparently posted it to Facebook and the news spread like wildfire.

To say that we were devastated by the news is an understatement. There were tears and cries of disbelief as the horror of what had occurred began to circulate amongst us. One of the women told me she was on a short break behind the mall when she found out and she just looked at her bus and couldn’t make herself get back on it to finish her route. She finally talked herself into it but I gathered it was a real struggle. Somehow we all made it through the day, but it was a very quiet, somber group of people who put the buses to bed that night.

The next morning I walked out to my bus, started it, then walked to the back seat and sat down and cried. You see, when you sit in the driver’s seat of a 40 foot bus, it doesn’t seem that large because all you see of the bus is what appears in your side mirrors. Mirrors are two-dimensional and you really don’t have a perspective of how large the bus is–you don’t, that is, until you sit down in the back and there is 40 feet of actual bus in front of you. I wasn’t sure I could drive that day, but I finally got myself together and finished checking out the bus and went on with my day.

As a professional bus driver you always have it in the back of your mind that something like this can happen. We are trained in safety. We are taught to get the big picture, to look around, aim high in steering, keep your eyes moving, look ahead, make sure they see you. We have mandatory safety meetings every month where we talk about how to be a better driver. How to be safer and more aware out on the roads. We have supervisors that ride along with us periodically to evaluate our driving skills. They follow us randomly in cars to observe us when we don’t know we are being observed. And we are all very safe drivers. We often joke and say that we are the only people out on the road who really know how to drive so we have to drive for everyone else out there. We drive defensively and constantly watch out for the other guy to make a mistake so that when they do we are prepared to adjust ourselves and compensate for it and avoid the accident.

But this. For this there was no avoiding. There was no warning. There was no compensating for someone else’s mistake. The driver never even saw the little boy–he just knew he had hit something and stopped. And by then it was too late.

300:29:1. Those numbers aren’t so random any more are they. Remember them and be safe out there. Because that one unsafe act could result in the death of yourself or someone you love. Stay off your phone while you are walking. Look both ways before you cross the street. Make sure they see you. Always cross at a corner. Hold your child’s hand, even if they don’t want you to. If you are driving, watch out for children and pets who may dart out in front of you. Be aware of your surroundings and don’t get fixated on the bumper of the vehicle in front of you. Any moving vehicle is a lethal weapon and can kill or severely injure both passengers and pedestrians even going as slow as 10 miles an hour. Be aware.

This tragedy didn’t have to happen but now that it has we are left to pick up the pieces and regain the trust of the community that we serve. 300:29:1. Don’t be the one.