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When School Bus Bullies Target the Driver

Protecting the courier as well as the student cargo.

Key points

  • Driving a school bus is an enormous responsibility—mentally, emotionally, and cognitively.
  • Drivers who are bullied by students may experience anxious driving, cynicism, and emotional exhaustion.
  • Veteran drivers are impacted more severely than novices by bullying, suggesting a cumulative effect.
Image by Nichole Janowsky from Pixabay
Source: Image by Nichole Janowsky from Pixabay

Driving a school bus is an enormous responsibility, one that many drivers embrace with competence and compassion for the precious cargo they transport. For others, however, it involves both drama and trauma. In addition to monitoring both the road and the rearview mirror to keep an eye on the kids, some bus drivers find themselves personally targeted.

Operating the Rolling Classroom

In “Bullying on the School Bus”[i] Alan K. Goodboy et al. (2016) recognized bullying as a serious issue for teachers, parents, students, and school administrators. They noted that although bullying intervention and prevention have been investigated in school settings, there has been less research focusing on bullying on the bus, despite its prevalence. Studying 117 public-school bus drivers who had been bullied by students, they found that symptoms included anxious driving, cynicism, and emotional exhaustion, all contributing to job stress.

Goodboy et al. recognized that in addition to ensuring the safety of the students in their care, driver responsibilities include preparing the bus physically and mechanically, as well as performing various control tasks as it is moving. They also recognize the cognitive control tasks involved, such as checking mirrors to monitor traffic and the behavior of other drivers and staying on schedule, as well as communication responsibilities that require the use of their radio or loudspeaker.

Considering the significant multitasking involved, school bus bullies exacerbate the mental and emotional demands of drivers even further, especially when the driver is the target. Goodboy et al. note that although student-on-student bullying impacted driver stress, students who bullied the driver produced larger and more consistent effects, creating stress which led to anxiety, decreased job satisfaction, and burnout. Bullying thus impacts a driver’s ability to perform their responsibilities by creating unnecessary stress, which makes drivers exhausted, dissatisfied, and anxious. Goodboy et al. found that veteran drivers were impacted more severely than novices by bullying, suggesting a cumulative effect of stress over time.

Protecting the Couriers

When it comes to school bus safety, drivers matter. Given the toll on driver health, both physical and mental, protecting drivers from victimization will also protect students. Recommendations include creating clearly communicated behavior policies and potential consequences for violators, installing video surveillance and easier, hands-free driver communication options, seat belts, assigned seating, or separate trips transporting children of different ages or grades. Other ideas include having district school bus supervisors sit in on bus routes to have more than one adult supervisor on a bus, as well as creating a strong peer support network to share experiences and formulate solutions.

Proactive planning to predict and prevent bullying on the bus will enhance the health and safety of both drivers and students.


[i] Goodboy, Alan K., Matthew M. Martin, and Elizabeth Brown. 2016. “Bullying on the School Bus: Deleterious Effects on Public School Bus Drivers.” Journal of Applied Communication Research 44 (4): 434–52. doi:10.1080/00909882.2016.1225161.

More from Wendy L. Patrick, J.D., Ph.D.
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