Monday, January 30, 2017

Beep Beep! I See You, But Who Else Does?

What is a horn? It's activated on a bus by pressing the center portion of the steering wheel. But why is it there, and when should it be used? Apparently, some passengers think we use it for the wrong reasons.

An operator recently had a passenger exit the bus, then walk directly in front of it. She was, of course, legally entitled to use the crosswalk. Let's stop the tape right there. First, nobody standing on a curb in front of a 40-foot-long vehicle can see through or around it well enough to see the cars about to zip past in the oncoming traffic lane. Which of course they do any time a bus stops in front of them. People just don't want to be behind a bus, period. No matter if the bus zips along at the posted speed limit, with a red traffic light just ahead. Patience is evidently not an option. Even though today's buses are close to zero emissions and leave no little exhaust fumes in their wake, people are too impatient to remain behind them.

So let's use the eyes of the driver behind the bus. Can he see around the vehicle to note the person standing at the curb, or actually walking in the crosswalk? No. It's too big to see around, and it's certainly not transparent so he can't see through it either. In the worst case scenario, driver of car zips around the bus just as pedestrian clears the driver side of the bus and they have a fateful meeting. Pedestrian loses this argument every time, sometimes at the cost of their very precious life.

Now roll the tape again on this incident. Former passenger steps off bus, and without even hesitating to look for traffic in either direction, enters the crosswalk. Bus operator honks as a warning. Luckily for the pedestrian, no traffic is coming in either direction. A passenger still on the bus takes exception to this action.

"That pedestrian has every right to be in the crosswalk," he says, more than a touch of anger in his voice. "You should never honk at someone like that. They are legally entitled to be there!"

Exiting the bus, this second passenger never gave the operator the option of explaining his use of the horn. Feeling righteous indignation, the operator watches, stunned and speechless, as the passenger notes the bus number. A cowardly and ignorant excuse for common sense, this one.

Had the passenger asked nicely why the operator honked, the conversation most likely would have been:

"Well sir, the reason I honked was to warn the pedestrian to look for approaching traffic," the operator would have said. "Since she wasn't looking, my honk was a wake up call. If you watched her, you noticed she didn't hesitate and certainly didn't look for traffic approaching in either direction. She assumed the bus would protect her, but that's not right. Impatient motorists are always speeding around our buses, without looking to see if someone might be crossing in front of the bus. Since they can't see through or around it, there's always a possibility the motorist will hit the pedestrian."

Non-professional drivers usually assume a horn is used as an expletive. Most people use it as an anger outlet when somebody pulls a stupid motorist move in their vicinity. Bus operators are trained to use a horn for the exact reason it was invented: to warn people. It's usually a beep-beep rather than a five-second blast. Two beeps is considered a polite way of saying "Hey, watch out!"

The operator did have time to ask the second passenger to read the sign above the bus doorway which reads "Don't walk in front of bus." This didn't impress the guy, and the operator will likely receive a complaint in his interoffice mail. Another unnecessary insult from someone who doesn't understand how many lives we save every day simply by warning people of imminent dangers.

I've warned many people of impending disaster in instances just like the one described above. On a busy four-lane road a few years ago, a lady exited my bus and immediately walked in front of it. It was a dark corner without a crosswalk. She paid no attention and began to cross into traffic. Seeing cars rushing toward us at 40 miles per hour in the lane she was about to walk into, I laid on the horn, startling her. Luckily, she looked at me as I frantically gestured for her to stop. Right as she did, four cars zipped past. Her hand went to her chest in an "Oh my God!" gesture. I waved her back to the curb and opened the door to make sure she was okay, and reminded her that's exactly why the sign above the bus door says what it does, and to please wait until I left to safely cross the street. Judging by her expression, she realized she had nearly become a human hood ornament.

School kids are trained to cross in front of a bus because it has barriers, flashing red lights and a STOP sign that swings out. Motorists are legally obligated to stop in both directions when a school bus is loading or unloading its precious cargo. Some fools still ignore the law, and sometimes kids are injured or killed as a result. Although they've been trained to cross in front a bus, a city bus doesn't have these safety devices to protect people. A few years ago, an 11-year-old exited one of our buses, ran in front of it and was struck by an impatient motorist. She was seriously injured and nearly died.

The brain of a human up to their mid-20s is not quite capable of discerning possible life-threatening situations. They harbor the false belief of invincibility. Adults however, should have acquired enough firing synapses to apply common sense in dangerous environments. City streets certainly qualify, because many motorists are in a hurry to get to the next red light.

The second passenger was correct. The lady who exited the bus does have the right to be in a crosswalk. He fails to acknowledge that rights come with responsibilities. It is our responsibility, as professional bus operators, to keep people safe who ride the bus. By honking at her, the operator wasn't in any form denying her any rights; nor was she taking responsibility for her own safety.

Yeah, we use our horn. We use it for the reason it was invented. So don't walk in front of a bus unless you appreciate the sound of a loud horn section over the music in your headphones. You might just live long enough to take another bus ride.


  1. Very, very interesting...

    This prompted me to do some quick homework looking up district code, but I haven't found chapter and verse to support your common sense conclusions.

    Will keep looking...

  2. Funny and also sad how rude passengers can be in this city. Although, most of them seem to say "thank you" while getting off the bus these days..

    Assuming this is Trimet, they're pretty dang reasonable with their rules (for the most part) and lots of operators are actually pretty cool, just probably run down by the aggressive passengers like the one in the story.