The School Bus Camera’s Eyes Have Seen It All

They say the camera don’t lie, and for that I am (mostly) thankful.

Being monitored by a video surveillance system makes driving my big yellow nuthouse a lot less stressful if a bit more embarrassing. It’s easy to forget it’s on and start talking to yourself … much to the amusement of anyone who watches the footage.

(This blog is based on actual events, though names, places and some personal details have been changed to protect the innocent as well as the guilty and avoid libel suits.)

On a more serious note, I don’t know how drivers got by without an on-board camera to keep things honest.

“He said, she said” situations with kids or parents can put us in serious professional or legal jeopardy. Drivers I know have been confronted by angry parents and relatives. My worst incident was an upset mother threatening to “rip the heads off” the kids who taunted her son. I calmly assured her I’d asked the school to investigate the incident, but she could have claimed I was nasty to her when I told her she wasn’t allowed to come on board. It’s a relief to have proof of my innocence in the proverbial video pudding.

Having your “tape pulled” and reviewed is invaluable for proving your case against the little viper you suspect has been up to no good like fastening seat belts across the aisle to create tripwires.

See: Wrong and Write: The School Bus Justice System

It’s also a stark existential moment that makes you put your life under a microscope.

Anything you’ve done or said can be used against you. Any little molehill you can think of feels like Mount Everest while your video is being scrutinized. Driving errors like failing to signal a turn have been called out by school principals who insist on watching an entire run before they rule on whether the driver coulda-shoulda prevented Smedley from stealing Stufflebean’s Pokemon cards. But drivers have been caught in fireable offenses like texting at the wheel.

It’s always the day I’ve done something unseemly that the video from my bus is called in for review.

One afternoon I was waiting outside Helga Poppin Intermediate School for my precious cargo to be dismissed when a mosquito bite on my foot started tormenting me. I got up, plopped onto a seat out of a view (so I thought), took off my sneaker and sock, and enjoyed a good scratch … before realizing the camera was still running. Not my most dignified on-screen moment.

Of course, I was summoned to the dispatcher’s office at the end of my run.

“Mrs. Overshoe called and said Prudence came home with blue nail polish all over her book bag,” I was told.

“I had no idea anything happened,” I stammered. Usually, kids tell on their tormentors. Not this time. So I was asked, “Can you have your tape pulled?”

See: The Rat Patrol: No One Likes a Snitch (Except a Bus Driver)

The video revealed Prudence was splashed with polish when Pismeyer and Jehosaphat wrassled for a bottle of it they’d taken from Prudence’s friend Esmerelda. Of course, I fretted about how good I must have looked scratching my dog before the fun started.

I confess I’ve lost a pound or two in anxious sweat at times like that.

During one particularly tumultuous run, I blurted “don’t be a smart ass” at sassy fourth-grader Robespierre when he cracked wise at me after one of my many, many roadside lectures about the evils of swinging from the chandeliers. Embarrassed, I hesitated to write up the incident but gulped deeply and prayed that viewing the riot in back would make the court take some mercy on me.

Blessedly, no one called me out. (Shows you the power of religion, eh? It’s why there are few atheists in these yellow trenches.)

I constantly tell kids that everything they say and do is being recorded, but they still swear on a big stack o’ Bibles that they’re innocent even though their guilt will be right there on the video. It’s one of the lessons they never learn, like the dangers of scuttling around the bus while it’s in motion.

Kids are always gobsmacked when they get caught in a sweep for others’ misdeeds. While reviewing complaints about salty language on my bus, Principal Diesel at Helga Poppin spotted an infraction away from the action: Hortense Prunella slugging Brutus in the gut. The young lady was shocked to be called on Diesel’s carpet.

When they are aware of the cameras, kids sometimes play to them, mugging, waving and yelling “Hi!” Others get smart. An eighth-grader smugly told me he and his partners in crime on another bus used to spray stuff on the camera lenses to cover up their mischief.

Heaven knows we drivers have a lot to contend with, so after writing up some middle school wrong-doers it was gratifying to hear the assistant principal tell me, “I watched the tape and all I can say is thank you. You need to be able to drive the bus, not control behavior. There should be a monitor on every bus but I know that will never happen.”

Hogs will pilot jetliners before it does, but I’ll gladly settle for the security of the camera until then.

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