Cecil celebrates 50 years driving school bus

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Palliser Regional Schools’ bus driver Cecil Morrison has been transporting students to and from school for the last 50 years.

Cecil Morrison has seen many changes over his 50 years of driving school bus. One thing has remained constant, however, and that’s the need to be mindful of not only his own actions behind the wheel, but also those he shares the road with.

The Palliser Regional Schools’ bus driver is now transporting a third generation of young passengers and he considers them family.

“I even had one parent who told me, ‘Cecil you have to keep driving until you have my other boy through his Grade 12,” says Morrison, who previously drove the father’s older child.

As such, it’s understandable that safely delivering those students to and from school each day is his highest priority and the reason Morrison looks at the “big picture” when he’s behind the wheel.

“If you see a vehicle coming down a gravel road and it seems to be going too fast, you can always slow down your speed and let him decide whether he’s going to run across the highway on you or not,” says the Champion resident. “You’ve got to be on guard.”

As a new school year begins - classes resumed Sept. 3 - Palliser is cautioning drivers that students will once again be loading and unloading from school buses. The focus of the annual “Think of Us on the Bus” safety campaign is to reduce the incidents where motorists illegally pass a school bus with warning lights flashing.

Those ‘fly-bys’ haven’t been a significant issue for Morrison on Route VC43, the route he’s driven from Champion to Vulcan for the past 15 years. That doesn’t mean he hasn’t had some close calls thanks to inattentive drivers.

Morrison recalls an incident “years ago” in which he was going to pick up students on a foggy day and had stopped his bus before entering the highway from the gravel road. A driver in a half-ton truck clipped his small bus from behind, and pushed him completely across the highway.  Moments later transport trucks zoomed past on the busy thoroughfare.

“We got lucky,” he says, adding the other driver was familiar with the road but apparently late for work and in a hurry. “That’s what happens. People drive down a road all the time and they think they’re at a turn, but all of a sudden it’s foggy out there and it’s, ‘what’s this thing out in front of me?’ ”

While Morrison doesn’t know if today’s drivers are any worse than when he started, he says there’s more of them on the road now. Even though it’s a given that large farm machinery will be out on the roads in force each spring, he knows it’s not worth taking any chances trying to get around that slow-moving traffic.

“If you’re late, you’re late for a reason and I think the teachers understand that,” says Morrison.

The routes he’s driven over the years – first for the County of Vulcan, before the Palliser division was established – have changed, and so has the training required of bus drivers.

There are now mandatory medical exams, safety and first-aid training, and drivers are tested on special driving skills necessary for the job. Annual start-up meetings bring the drivers up to speed on any further changes, and they work on bus evacuation drills with students.

When Morrison began, after passing the driving test “you just went in when it was time for school and picked your bus up.”

He’s also seen considerable advancement in safety equipment on Palliser buses through the years.

“In those days, you had a spare tire on the front of bus, and down below you had an axe. I suppose that was in case you had to break a window open,” says Morrison of the early buses.

Neither were they equipped with radios.

“If you got stuck or something, one farmer phoned the other farmer and it was, ‘well, he hasn’t made it here yet, maybe we better go look for him,’ ” he recalls.

Along with radios and various other safety improvements, today’s Palliser school buses are equipped with Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and video cameras which record not only the traffic in front of them, but also student behaviour behind the driver.

When Morrison first signed up to be a bus driver he never thought he’d still be going strong 50 years later. The time has passed quickly for him, however, and he’s enjoyed his young passengers and the treatment provided him by their parents.

As for his future, the 76-year-old can see himself driving for at least another year or two if his good health continues.

“You never know, it might be longer,” says Morrison, adding with a smile. “I don’t want to come in with a cane.”

Each year Palliser Regional Schools produces a multi-prong awareness campaign, “Think of Us on the Bus.” Through media, social media and the school division’s website, Palliser brings attention to the need for other drivers sharing the road to keep in mind the valuable cargo aboard the school bus they are approaching. That message is sponsored this year by the Coaldale Community Wellness Association.