California School Bus Driver Requirements

by Staff Blogger | December 19th, 2023

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 about 24,000 buses and transport over 1.1 million students of all ages each day, presenting numerous employment 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
  • 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 driver’s 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 first apply for and receive 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:

  1. Visit the local DMV and apply for a Commercial Instruction Permit (CIP).
  2. With your CIP in hand, apply for a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) Test, Class A or B.
  3. Once you have your CDL, apply for the Passenger Transport Test to obtain your P endorsement.
  4. 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. This helps reduce the risk of a crash.

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 bus driver training 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, making them 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 to reduce their risk of causing a crash.

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.

HOW PARENTS AND SCHOOLS CAN HELP ENSURE SCHOOL BUS SAFETY

Ensuring the safety of children on school buses needs to be a collaborative effort. While bus drivers undertake extensive training, parents and schools also play a critical role. Here are some ways all parties involved can help improve safety:

Effective Communication

Parents and schools should maintain open communication channels with bus drivers. This includes sharing up-to-date information about child passengers’ health issues, emergency contacts, bullying or behavioral problems, and any specific needs that may affect the children’s safety on the bus.

Safety Drills and Awareness Programs

Parents should participate in school-organized safety drills to understand how their children are expected to respond in emergency situations. Schools can also organize awareness programs for parents to cover strategies to keep children safe on and around buses and bus stops.

Distribution of Safety Protocols

Parents and schools need to be familiar with the safety protocols in place for boarding, riding, and exiting the school bus, including emergency evacuation procedures and seat belt use (if available). Schools should make sure written guidelines are distributed to reinforce the information shared during drills and awareness programs.

Teaching Children About Safe Behavior

Parents play a crucial role in teaching children about safe behavior on the bus, such as staying seated, not distracting the driver, and keeping aisles clear. Parents should reinforce to their children the importance of following bus rules and respecting the authority of the bus driver and any onboard monitors.

Holding Negligent Drivers Legally Accountable

Parents should report any incidents of negligence or unsafe driving to the school and relevant authorities immediately. In cases where a bus accident is caused by the negligence of the bus driver or another motorist and children are hurt, it’s important to hold those responsible legally accountable.

After an accident, parents may need to consult legal professionals to understand the steps necessary for legal recourse.

NEED AN EXPERIENCED BUS ACCIDENT LAWYER?

Traffic accidents involving a school bus can be especially devastating and complicated. Berg Injury Lawyers has over 40 years of experience providing injury victims with expert representation in a court of law. Contact one of our qualified California car accident lawyers today and schedule a free initial consultation.

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Originally published February 21, 2022.