Florida Law States:

Any person driving a school bus and approaching a railroad-highway grade crossing shall stop within 50 feet but not less than 15 feet from the nearest rail of such railroad and shall not proceed until he or she can do so safely when a highway sign is indicating that a train is approaching or when the driver can hear or see an approaching train. Drivers of commercial vehicles shall slow before crossing the tracks and check that the tracks are clear of an approaching train.

If you’ve ever ridden a school bus as a kid, or even driven behind one, you have probably seen that they stop at all railroad tracks, even if the intersection has no train coming. The bus driver will stop, open the window and the door, and believe it or not, listens before crossing.

If you needed to get somewhere and got caught behind a bus during a bus crossing a railroad, you might feel like this a waste of time, or at least like an overcautious safety measure. Like many traffic laws, it was a tragedy that led to this extended safety measure. It all started back to Sandy, Utah, on December 1, 1938, when the worst school bus accident in United States history occurred.

A school bus carrying 39 students to Jordan High School in Sandy met head-on with a 50-car freight train during a raging blizzard. The train called, “The Flying Ute,” belonged to the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. It was heading north and was an hour late because of the blizzard conditions.

Farrold “Slim” Silcox, the 29-year-old driver of the school bus. He stopped as required by an already existing law at the railroad crossing of 300 West, slightly north of 10600 South. The blizzard was blinding. “Visibility was zero. I can’t remember a storm worse than that one,” said Andrus, who was a fifth-grader at the time and living in nearby Draper. But since Silcox had crossed these tracks daily at this time for the past three years and never encountered The Flying Ute, he proceeded across.

Traveling at 60 miles per hour, the train dragged the school bus almost half a mile before it could stop. Twenty-five school kids died, plus Slim Silcox. It remains the worst railroad crossing tragedy in U.S. history. After that, in addition to having to stop at all railroad crossings, the law required school bus drivers to open the door and their side window, and listen, before proceeding.

For a time, a “lookout” was also required — a student who would step off the bus and visually check down the tracks. This practice has been abandoned because it put the lookout in jeopardy, but 71 years later, the “open door” policy is still in effect — even if, as Andrus suggests, it isn’t always strictly adhered to.

Here are some school bus safety tips: https://thenewswheel.com/school-bus-safety-tips-for-drivers/

For an infographic on school bus facts and figures: https://thenewswheel.com/infographic-school-bus-facts-and-figures/