California School Bus Driver Requirements

by Staff Blogger | February 21st, 2022

With over 10,000 public schools in the Golden State, the California school transportation system is effectively the state’s largest mass transport network and one of the largest nationwide.

California schools operate over 24,000 buses and transport over 1.1 million students of all ages each day, presenting numerous opportunities for safe and qualified drivers.

If you’re a parent, you might be wondering what qualifications a person must possess before they can drive a bus full of schoolchildren. Let’s review the requirements to become a school bus driver in California and find out why their education and training are crucial to road safety.

Legal Requirements

Although the specific requirements to become a school bus driver in California may vary slightly between counties, all applicants must meet the following state requirements:

  • Be at least 18 years old (however, due to CDL requirements, you effectively must be at least 21 to drive a school bus)
  • High school diploma
  • Medical examination certificate asserting the applicant’s good physical condition; must not suffer from Type 1 diabetes (insulin-dependent), epilepsy, seizure disorders, or unmedicated high blood pressure
  • Department of Justice fingerprint clearance
  • Valid driving license with a clean driving record
  • Clean criminal record
  • Clean alcohol and controlled substance test results

If you meet all these criteria, you may apply to obtain a California Commercial Driver’s License (CDL). The legal requirement to drive a school bus in California is an S Endorsement on your license.

Obtaining the coveted S on your license is challenging; you must already possess a CDL with a P endorsement, which allows you to drive a vehicle capable of carrying 16 or more passengers, such as standard commercial buses.

If you’re starting from scratch, here are the requirements you’ll need to pass:

  • Visit the local DMV and apply for a Commercial Instruction Permit
  • With your CIP in hand, apply for a Commercial Driver’s License Test, Class A or B
  • Once you have your CDL, apply for the Passenger Transport Test to obtain your P endorsement
  • If you possess a CDL with a P endorsement, you may apply for an S endorsement test.

Passing the S test and obtaining both the P and S endorsements means you are qualified to operate a school bus in California.

What Training Do School Bus Drivers Receive?

Although applicants must apply at a local school or education facility, all training and education materials are managed by the California Department of Education (CDE). The state mandates a minimum of 20 hours of classroom time and 20 hours of driving time.

California’s training requirements are among the strictest in the nation, placing a high degree of importance on safety and skillful driving. School bus operators must know all relevant laws, regulations, and rules.

A typical California school bus driver class schedule includes multiple elements. The first day is typically an orientation day, where applicants learn state and local laws. Then, they have an interview with the California Highway Patrol, education regarding school bus vehicle parts and components, safe vehicle loading and unloading, passenger management, and expected driver-student interactions.

Applicants also learn to conduct a vehicle inspection and systems check (tires, brakes, lights, steering, etc.), which is required before starting each workday. Most courses also include education on emergency procedures such as defensive driving techniques, emergency loading and unloading, and first aid.

Applicants will also learn how to manage field trips and special needs students and a short public relations module.

The final day is devoted to the exam, known as the CHP Rules and Regulations Test. Passing is critical to becoming a certified school bus driver.

Why Qualified School Bus Drivers are Essential

According to the NHTSA, school buses are the most regulated vehicles on the road nationwide, approximately 70 times safer than a standard passenger car. Similarly, certified school bus drivers must pass rigorous tests proving they are in good physical and mental condition.

Although these requirements may seem stringent, they are instrumental to students’ safety. Most often, a qualified, properly trained school bus driver makes a difference on the road, making them one of the safest types of drivers nationwide.

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