Section 4: Transporting Passengers Safely

This section is for drivers who transport passengers

This section contains general knowledge and safe driving practices for passenger vehicle drivers. You must take a test on the information contained in this section to get an endorsement on your CDL. Passenger vehicle drivers have special responsibilities. They are not only responsible for the condition and safe operation of their vehicle, but also for the safety of their passengers.

This section does not contain information on air brakes. You must read Section 5 of this handbook for that information.

Passenger Vehicle Endorsement Needed

You must have a passenger vehicle endorsement for a passenger transportation vehicle which 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 small-size bus.

Vehicle Inspections

Safety is the most important and obvious reason to inspect your vehicle. Also, federal and state laws require inspection by the driver. Federal and state inspectors also inspect commercial vehicles. An unsafe vehicle can be put out of service until the driver or owner has it repaired. Do not risk your life or the lives of your passengers in an unsafe vehicle.

Many drivers work for companies who have maintenance mechanics responsible for much of the detailed checks outlined in this section. However, as a driver you must still be able to check for and recognize many of the signs of unsafe operating conditions. The driver must also inspect the emergency equipment and make sure it is in place and ready for use.

Before driving your bus, you must make 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 not needed to be repaired, should you sign the previous driver's report. This is your certification that the defects reported earlier have been fixed.

Types of Inspections

Pre-trip inspection. Do a pre-trip inspection before each trip to find problems that could cause a collision or a breakdown. A pre-trip inspection should be routinely done before operating the vehicle.

During a trip you should:

  • Watch gauges for signs of trouble.
  • Use your senses to check for problems (look, listen, smell, feel).
  • Check critical items when you stop:
    • tires, wheels, and rims
    • brakes
    • lights

After-trip inspection and report. Inspect your transport vehicle at the end of the trip, day, or tour of duty. You must complete a written vehicle inspection report each day. It must include a listing of any problems you find.

If you work for an interstate carrier and you drive buses, 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.

What to Look for

Tire problems. It is dangerous to drive with bad tires. Front tires must not be recapped, retreaded, or regrooved. Look for:

  • Too much or too little air pressure.
  • Tire wear. You need at least 4/32 inch tread depth in every major groove on front tires and 2/32 inch on other tires. No fabric should show through the tread or sidewall.
  • Cuts or other damage.
  • Tread separation.
  • Dual tires that come in contact with each other or parts of the vehicle.
  • Mismatched sizes.
  • Radial and bias-ply tires used together.
  • Cut or cracked valve stems.
  • After a tire has been changed, stop a short while later and recheck the tightness of the wheel fasteners.

Wheel and rim problems. A damaged rim can cause a tire to lose pressure or come off. Look for:

  • Rust around wheel fasteners—check tightness.
  • Missing clamps, spacers, studs, or lugs.
  • Mismatched, bent, or cracked lock rings.
  • Signs of damage in wheels or rims that have had welding repairs.

Suspension system defects. The suspension system supports the vehicle and its load and keeps the axles in place. Check for, if visible:

  • Cracked or broken spring hangers, if so equipped.
  • Missing or broken leaves in any leaf spring (if 1/4 or more are missing or broken or a main leaf spring is broken, the vehicle will be put out of service during a state or federal inspection. However, any defect could be dangerous).
  • Leaking shock absorbers.
  • Air suspension systems that are damaged and/ or leaking (do not move with less than 80 psi.)

Exhaust system defects. A broken exhaust system can let poisonous fumes into the bus or other passenger transport vehicle. If visible, check for:

  • Loose, broken, or missing exhaust pipes, mufflers, tailpipes, or vertical stacks.
  • Loose, broken, or missing mounting brackets, clamps, or bolts.
  • Exhaust system parts rubbing against fuel system parts, tires, electrical wiring, combustible parts, or other moving parts.
  • Exhaust system parts that are leaking.
  • Excessive smoke.

Emergency equipment. Federal law requires that a bus carry:

  • Spare electrical fuses (unless the vehicle has circuit breaker).
  • Three red reflective triangles.
  • Properly charged and rated fire extinguisher, if required.
Inspection Method

See Section 11 for inspection information and guidelines. Follow this link to see memory aids. You may only use one of these when you take your CDL pre-trip test for your CDL at the DMV. The memory aid cannot include instructions on how to perform the pre-trip inspection. Also refer to Section 5 for Air Brake information.

Emergency Exits

Check the emergency exits for ease of operation, correct markings, and to ensure that 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.

Bus Interior

Always check the interior of the bus before driving to ensure rider safety. Aisles and stairwells must 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 rest room emergency buzzer, if the bus has a rest room.
  • Emergency exit handles.

The seats must be safe for riders and must be securely fastened to the bus. The number of passengers (excluding infants in arms) must not exceed the number of safe and adequate seating spaces, unless standing in designated areas is allowed.

The driver's seat should have a seat belt. Ensure it works properly and remember to wear it. The law requires you to wear your seat belt.

In the passenger compartment of a farm labor vehicle, all cutting tools or tools with sharp edges shall be placed in 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.

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' higher clearance while driving with them open.

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.

Standee Lines

Buses designed to allow standing must have a two-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.

At Your Destination

When you arrive at your destination or intermediate stops announce:

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

Remind riders to take their carry-ons with them if they are getting off the bus. If the aisle is on a lower level than the seats, remind the riders to watch their step. 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.


Do not allow riders to leave carry-on baggage in a doorway or aisle. There should be nothing in the aisle that might trip 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.
Hazardous Materials

Watch for cargo or baggage containing hazardous materials or wastes. Most hazardous materials or wastes cannot be carried on a bus.

The Federal Hazardous Materials Table shows which materials are hazardous. They pose a risk to health, safety, and property during transportation. Charts showing all the labels start on page 131. Watch for the diamond-shaped hazard labels. Do not transport any hazardous substances requiring placards, unless you are sure the rules allow it and you have a HazMat endorsement on your CDL.

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

  • Division 2.3 poisons, liquid Division 6.1 poisons, tear gas, irritating materials.
  • More than 100 pounds of solid Division 6.1 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 hazardous materials, and no more than 100 pounds of any one class.

Riders sometimes board a bus with an unlabeled hazardous material. They may not know it is unsafe. Do not allow riders to carry on hazards such as car batteries or gasoline. Oxygen medically prescribed for, and 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 13 CCR 1293.


Transporting animals is prohibited except for certified service, guide, or signal dogs used by physically challenged passengers. (CC 54.2)

Driving Techniques

Stop at railroad crossings. Stop your bus between 15 and 50 feet before railroad crossings. Look and listen in both directions for trains. You should open your forward door if it improves your ability to see or hear an approaching train. After a train has passed but before crossing the tracks, be sure there is not another train coming in either direction on other tracks. If your vehicle has a manual transmission, you must not change gears while crossing the tracks. You should always slow down and check for other vehicles at railroad crossings marked as "exempt."

Managing Space

How far ahead to look. Most good drivers look 12 to 15 seconds ahead. That means looking ahead the distance you will travel in 12 to 15 seconds. At lower speeds, that is about one block. At highway speeds, it is about a quarter of a mile. If you are not looking that far ahead, you may have to stop too quickly or make quick lane changes. Looking 12 to 15 seconds ahead does not mean that you should not pay attention to things that are closer. Good drivers shift their attention back and forth, from near and to far.

Space to the sides. Buses are often wide and take up most of a lane. Safe drivers will manage what little space they have. You can do this by keeping your vehicle centered in your lane, and avoid traveling next to others when possible.

How much space? How much space should you keep in front of you? One good rule says you need at least one second for each 10 feet of vehicle length at speeds below 40 mph. At higher speeds, you must add one second for safety. For example, if you are driving a 40-foot bus at 30 mph and the road is dry and visibility is good, you should leave 4 seconds between you and the vehicle ahead.

If you are driving a 40 foot bus at 50 mph and the road is dry and visibility is good, you should keep at least 5 seconds of space in front of your bus to be safe. If you are driving a 30- foot bus on a highway at 45 mph and the road is dry and visibility is good, you should keep at least 4 seconds of space in front of your bus to be safe.

Slippery surfaces. It will take longer to stop and it will be harder to turn without skidding when the road is slippery. You must drive slower to be able to stop in the same distance as on a dry road. Wet roads can double the stopping distance. Allow yourself much more space than needed for ideal driving conditions when the road is slippery.

The Effect of Speed on Stopping Distance

The faster you drive, the greater the impact or striking power of your bus. When you double your speed from 20 to 40 mph, the impact is four times greater and the stopping distance is four times longer. Triple the speed from 20 to 60 mph and the impact and stopping distance is nine times greater. High speeds greatly increase the severity of collisions and stopping distance. By slowing down, you can reduce the stopping distance.

Driving at Night

At night, your headlights will usually be the main source of light for you to see by and for others to see you. You can't see nearly as much at night with your headlights as you see in the daytime. With low beams, you can see ahead about 250 feet and with high beams about 300-500 feet. You must slow down to keep your stopping distance within your sight range. This means slowing down to be able to stop within the range of your headlights. When you have your high beams on and must dim them for oncoming traffic, you should slow down to keep your stopping distance within the range of your headlights.


What is a hazard? A hazard is any road condition or other road user (e.g., driver, bicyclist, or pedestrian) that is a possible danger.

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. But remember, these mirrors make things seem smaller and farther away than they really are.

Railroad Crossings

No stop needs to be made (See Figure 4-1):

  • At railroad tracks which run alongside and on the roadway within a business or residence district.
  • Where a traffic officer or flagman is directing traffic.
  • If the railroad track is within the intersection and the traffic control signal shows green.
  • At railroad crossings marked "exempt crossing."

a diagram showing an exempt and a not exempt railroad crossing


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 see if the draw is completely closed before crossing. You do not need to stop, but must slow down when:

  • There is a traffic light showing green.
  • The bridge has an attendant or traffic officer that controls traffic whenever the bridge opens.
Common Causes of Bus Collisions

Collisions often happen at intersections. Use caution, even if a signal or stop sign controls other traffic. 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. Never assume other drivers will brake to give you room when you signal or start to pull out.

Collisions on curves result from excessive speed, often when rain or snow has made the road slippery. Every banked curve has a safe design speed. The design speed is often less than the posted speed for the curve. Although the posted speed is safe for smaller vehicles, it may be too high for many buses. With good traction, the bus may roll over; with poor traction, it will simply slide off the curve. Reduce speed for curves! If your bus leans toward the outside on a banked curve, you are driving too fast. The best way to control the bus on curves is to slow to a safe speed before entering the curve, and then accelerate slightly through it.

Passenger Management

Passenger supervision is necessary while driving. Many charter and intercity carriers have passenger comfort and safety rules. Explaining the rules at the start of the trip will help to avoid trouble later.

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 the rules or to keep arms and heads inside the bus.

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.

Unruly Passengers

Occasionally, you may have a rider who is unruly or under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. You must ensure this rider's safety as well as that of others. Do not discharge a rider where it would be unsafe. It may be safer to unload a passenger at the next scheduled stop, or a well lighted area where there are other people.

Miscellaneous Requirements

The nozzle of the fuel hose must be in contact with the intake of the fuel tank when refueling. No driver or motor carrier shall permit a vehicle to be fueled while:

  • The engine is running.
  • A radio on the bus is transmitting.
  • The bus is close to any open flame or ignition source (including persons who are smoking).
  • Passengers are aboard any bus (except one fueled by diesel in an open area or in a structure open at both ends).
Brake Door Interlock

Urban mass transit coaches may have a brake and accelerator interlock system. The interlock applies the brakes and holds the throttle in 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 when safety requires the use of the parking brake.

Prohibited Practices

Do not engage in unnecessary conversation with passengers or any other distracting activity while driving.

Do not tow or push a disabled bus with riders aboard the vehicle, unless discharging the passengers would be unsafe. Follow your employer's guidelines on towing or pushing a disabled bus.

Section 3: Transporting Cargo | Table of Contents | Section 5: Air Brakes