Commercial Driver Handbook

Driver Education illustration

Section 5 of 15

Section 4: Transporting Passengers Safely

Passenger vehicle drivers must have a CDL with a “P” endorsement if they drive a vehicle designed to transport more than 10 persons, including the driver.

A passenger transportation vehicle includes, but is not limited to, a bus, farm labor vehicle, or general public paratransit vehicle when the vehicle is designed, used, or maintained to carry more than 10 passengers, including the driver, for hire or for profit, or by any nonprofit organization or group.

If you take a driving test in a van designed, used, or maintained to carry 15 persons or less, including the driver, you will be restricted to driving a 15-passenger or less small-size bus.

To get the endorsement, you must pass a knowledge test on Sections 2 and 4 of this handbook. If your bus has air brakes, you must also pass a knowledge test on Section 5. You must also pass the skills tests required for the class of vehicle you drive.

A CLP holder with a “P” and/or an “S” endorsement is prohibited from operating a CMV with passengers, other than federal/state auditors and inspectors, test examiners, other trainees, and the accompanying CDL holder (FMCSR §383.25).

4.1 – Vehicle Inspection

Before driving your bus, you must be sure it is safe. You must review the inspection report made by the previous driver. Only if defects reported earlier have been certified as repaired or repairs not needed, should you sign the previous driver’s report. This is your certification that the defects reported earlier have been fixed.

See Section 11 for inspection information and guidelines. Memory aids are shown at the end of Section 11. You may only use one of these when you take your CDL vehicle inspection test for your CDL at DMV. The memory aid cannot include instructions on how to perform the vehicle inspection test. Refer to Section 5 for Air Brake information.

4.1.1 – Vehicle Systems

Make sure these things are in good working order before driving:

  • Service brakes, including air hose couplings (if your bus has a trailer or semitrailer).
  • Parking brake.
  • Steering mechanism.
  • Lights and reflectors.
  • Tires (front wheels must not have recapped or regrooved tires).
  • Horn.
  • Windshield wiper or wipers.
  • Rear-vision mirror or mirrors.
  • Coupling devices (if present).
  • Wheels and rims.
  • Emergency equipment.
    • Make sure the bus has fire extinguishers and emergency reflectors required by law.
    • The bus must have spare electrical fuses, unless equipped with circuit breakers.

4.1.2 – Access Doors and Panels

As you check the outside of the bus, close any open emergency exits. Also, close any open access panels (for baggage, restroom service, engine, etc.) before driving.

4.1.3 – Bus Interior

People sometimes damage unattended buses. Always check the interior of the bus before driving to ensure rider safety. Aisles and stairwells should always be clear. The following parts of your bus must be in safe working condition:

  • Each handhold and railing.
  • Floor covering.
  • Signaling devices, including the restroom emergency buzzer, if the bus has a restroom.
  • Emergency exit handles.

The seats must be safe for riders. All seats must be securely fastened to the bus.

Check the emergency exits for ease of operation, correct markings, and ensure any required buzzers or devices work properly.

Never drive with an open emergency exit door or window. The “Emergency Exit” sign on an emergency door must be clearly visible. If there is a red emergency door light, it must work. Turn it on at night or any other time you use your outside lights.

In the passenger compartment of a farm labor vehicle, all cutting tools or tools with sharp edges must be placed in a covered container. All other tools, equipment, or materials carried in the passenger compartment shall be secured to the body of the vehicle. The driver and all passengers must wear seat belts.

4.1.4 – Roof Hatches

You may lock some emergency roof hatches in a partly open position for fresh air. Do not leave them open as a regular practice. Keep in mind the bus’s higher clearance while driving with them open.

4.1.5 – Use Your Seatbelt!

The driver’s seat should have a seat belt. Always use it for safety.

4.2 – Loading and Trip Start

Do not allow riders to leave carry-on baggage in a doorway or aisle. There should be nothing in the aisle that might trip other riders. Secure baggage and freight in ways that avoid damage and:

  • Allow the driver to move freely and easily.
  • Allow riders to exit by any window or door in an emergency.
  • Protect riders from injury if carry-ons fall or shift.

4.2.1 – Hazardous Materials

Watch for cargo or baggage containing HazMat. Most HazMat cannot be carried on a bus.

The Federal Hazardous Class Definitions Table shows which materials are hazardous. They pose a risk to health, safety, and property during transportation. The rules require shippers to mark containers of HazMat with the material’s name, ID number, and hazard label. There are 9 different 4-inch, diamond-shaped hazard labels. See Figure 4.1. Watch for the diamond-shaped labels. Do not transport any HazMat unless you are sure the rules allow it.


ClassClass NameExample
1ExplosivesAmmunition, Dynamite, Fireworks
2GasesPropane, Oxygen, Helium
3FlammableGasoline Fuel, Acetone
4Flammable SolidsMatches, Fuses
5OxidizersAmmonium Nitrate, Hydrogen Peroxide
6PoisonsPesticides, Arsenic
7RadioactiveUranium, Plutonium
8CorrosivesHydrochloric Acid, Battery Acid
9Miscellaneous Hazardous MaterialsFormaldehyde, Asbestos
NoneORM-D (Other Regulated Material-Domestic)Hair Spray or Charcoal
NoneCombustible LiquidsFuel Oils, Lighter Fluid

Figure 4.1

4.2.2 – Forbidden Hazardous Materials

Buses may carry small-arms ammunition labeled ORM-D, emergency hospital supplies, and drugs. You can carry small amounts of other HazMat if the shipper cannot send them any other way. Buses must never carry:

  • Division 2.3 poison gas, liquid Class 6 poison, tear gas, or irritating material.
  • More than 100 pounds of solid Class 6 poisons.
  • Explosives in the space occupied by people, except small-arms ammunition.
  • Labeled radioactive materials in the space occupied by people.
  • More than 500 pounds total of allowed HazMat, and no more than 100 pounds of any 1 class.

Riders sometimes board a bus with an unlabeled HazMat. Do not allow riders to carry on common hazards such as car batteries or gasoline.

Oxygen medically prescribed for, in the possession of a passenger, and in a container designed for personal use is allowed.

Wheelchairs transported on buses (except school buses) must have brakes or other mechanical means of holding still while it is raised or lowered on the wheelchair platform. Batteries must be spill resistant and securely attached to the wheelchair. Wheelchairs may not use flammable fuel. School bus wheelchair regulations are in CCR, Title 13 §1293.

4.2.3 – Standee Line

No rider may stand forward of the rear of the driver’s seat. Buses designed to allow standing must have a 2-inch line on the floor or some other means of showing riders where they cannot stand. This is called the standee line. All standing riders must stay behind it.

4.2.4 – At Your Destination

When arriving at the destination or intermediate stops, announce:

  • The location.
  • Reason for stopping.
  • Next departure time.
  • Bus number.

Remind riders to take carry-ons with them if they get off the bus. If the aisle is on a lower level than the seats, remind riders of the step-down. It is best to tell them before coming to a complete stop.

Charter bus drivers should not allow riders on the bus until departure time. This will help prevent theft or vandalism of the bus.

4.2.5 – Loading and Unloading

Bus drivers need to consider passenger safety during loading and unloading. Always ensure your passengers are safely on the bus before closing the door(s) and pulling away. Allow passengers enough time to sit down or brace themselves before departing. Starting and stopping should be as smooth as possible to avoid rider injury.

4.2.6 – Animals

Transporting animals is prohibited except for certified service, guide, or signal dogs used by physically challenged passengers (California Civil Code (CCC) §54.2).

4.3 – On the Road

4.3.1 – Passenger Supervision

Many charter and intercity carriers have passenger comfort and safety rules. Mention rules about smoking, drinking, and electronic devices at the start of the trip. Explaining the rules at the start will help to avoid trouble later on.

While driving, scan the interior of your bus, as well as the road ahead, to the sides, and to the rear. You may have to remind riders about rules, or to keep their arms and heads inside the bus.

4.3.2 – At Stops

Riders can stumble when getting on or off and when the bus starts or stops. Caution riders to watch their step when leaving the bus. Wait for them to sit down or brace themselves before starting. Starting and stopping should be as smooth as possible to avoid rider injury.

Occasionally, you may have a drunk or disruptive rider. You must ensure this rider’s safety, as well as that of others. Do not discharge such riders where it would be unsafe for them. It may be safer at the next scheduled stop or a well-lit area where there are other people. Many carriers have guidelines for handling disruptive riders.

4.3.3 – Common Accidents

Most Common Bus Accidents. Bus accidents often happen at intersections. Use caution, even if a signal or stop sign controls other traffic. School and mass transit buses sometimes scrape off mirrors or hit passing vehicles when pulling out from a bus stop. Remember the clearance your bus needs, and watch for poles and tree limbs at stops. Know the size of the gap your bus needs to accelerate and merge with traffic. Wait for the gap to open before leaving the stop. Never assume other drivers will brake to give you room when you signal or start to pull out.

4.3.4 – Speed on Curves

Accidents occurring on curves that kill people, and destroy buses result from excessive speed, often when rain or snow has made the road slippery. Every banked curve has a safe “design speed.” In good weather, the posted speed is safe for cars but it may be too fast for many buses. With good traction, the bus may roll over. With poor traction, it might slide off the curve. Reduce speed for curves! If your bus leans toward the outside on a banked curve, you are driving too fast.

4.3.4(a) – Using Your Mirrors

When you use your mirrors while driving on the road, check them quickly. Look back and forth regularly as part of your scan for potential hazards. Do not focus on the mirrors for too long. Otherwise, you will travel quite a distance without knowing what is happening ahead.

Many buses have convex mirrors that show a wider area than flat mirrors. This is often helpful. Remember, these mirrors make things seem smaller and farther away than they really are.

4.3.5 – Railroad-Highway Crossing/Stops

Stop at Railroad Crossings.

  • Stop your bus between 15 and 50 feet before railroad crossings.
  • Listen and look in both directions for trains. You should open your forward door if it improves your ability to see or hear an approaching train.
  • Before crossing after a train has passed, make sure there is not another train coming in the other direction on other tracks.
  • If your bus has a manual transmission, never change gears while crossing the tracks.
  • You do not have to stop, but must slow down and carefully check for other vehicles:
    — At railroad tracks which run alongside and on the roadway within a business or residence district.
    — At streetcar crossings.
    — Where a peace officer or flagman is directing traffic.
    — If a traffic signal is green.
    — At crossings marked as “exempt” or abandoned.”

4.3.6 – Drawbridges

Stop at Drawbridges. Stop at drawbridges that do not have a signal light or traffic control attendant. Stop at least 50 feet before the draw of the bridge. Look to make sure the draw is completely closed before crossing. You do not need to stop, but must slow down and make sure it is safe, when:

  • There is a traffic light showing green.
  • The bridge has an attendant or traffic officer who controls traffic whenever the bridge opens.

4.4 – After-Trip Vehicle Inspection

Inspect your bus at the end of each shift. If you work for an interstate carrier, you must complete a written inspection report for each bus driven. The report must specify each bus and list any defect that would affect safety or result in a breakdown. If there are no defects, the report should say so.

Riders sometimes damage safety-related parts such as handholds, seats, emergency exits, and windows. If you report this damage at the end of a shift, mechanics can make repairs before the bus goes out again. Mass transit drivers should also make sure passenger signaling devices and brake-door interlocks work properly.

example railroad crossings

Figure 4-A

4.5 – Prohibited Practices

Avoid fueling your bus with riders on board unless absolutely necessary. Never refuel in a closed building with riders on board.

Do not talk with riders, or engage in any other distracting activity, while driving.

Do not tow or push a disabled bus with riders aboard the vehicle, unless getting off would be unsafe. Only tow or push the bus to the nearest safe spot to discharge passengers. Follow your employer’s guidelines on towing or pushing disabled buses.

4.6 – Use of Brake-Door Interlocks

Urban mass transit coaches may have a brake and accelerator interlock system. The interlock applies the brakes and holds the throttle in the idle position when the rear door is open. The interlock releases when you close the rear door. Do not use this safety feature in place of the parking brake.


Test Your Knowledge

  1. Name some things to check in the interior of a bus during a vehicle inspection.
  2. What are some HazMat you can transport by bus?
  3. What are some HazMat you cannot transport by bus?
  4. What is a standee line?
  5. Does it matter where you make a disruptive passenger get off the bus?
  6. How far from a railroad crossing should you stop?
  7. When must you stop before crossing a drawbridge?
  8. Describe from memory the “prohibited practices” listed in this handbook.
  9. The rear door of a transit bus has to be open to put on the parking brake. True or False?

These questions may be on your test. If you cannot answer them all, reread Section 4.