How Using One-Third Rule Helps Bus Operators Manage Intersections

Posted on December 7, 2016 by Steve Mentzer - Also by this author

I’ve been noticing a rising number of folks — driving vehicles of all types — rushing through intersections after the signal has reached a full and solid red. There is one particular intersection in my town where motorists continue to plow through the red signal as if stopping has somehow become optional. Rushing through intersections is not a safe practice and proceeding through a red signal still happens to be a traffic violation. This should be a secret to no one. Yet, it seems to happen all the time.

Motorists might benefit from knowledge of the one-third rule to determine whether the traffic signal of the intersection they are approaching is indicating a fresh or stale green.

The one-third rule is a forward-planning practice that involves breaking road segments (or city blocks) into manageable chunks, so we can identify anything that will require us to take action to prevent an adverse outcome as we approach an intersection.

It is important to note that the one-third rule does not imply that you won’t have to take necessary action at any given moment as you proceed along your route. As a professional bus operator, you must always be prepared to act when situations or conditions dictate that a specific response is necessary to avoid danger. It might be better to refer to this concept as “managing blocks by thirds” instead of using the term “rule” when describing this to your operators.

Ultimately, bus operators must always maintain a predictive frame of mind:

  • What if that car decides to pull out? Lift and cover your brake. Prepare to stop.
  • What if this person talking on their cell phone continues walking into the street even though they are looking directly at my bus? Lift and cover your brake. Prepare to stop.
  • What if the car to my left tries to beat my bus by turning right directly in front of me immediately after the light changes to green? Pause and let them go.
  • What if the driver’s side door of a parked car were to suddenly open? Provide sufficient clearance.

During the initial third, our focus should be on identifying potential hazards or situations that may pose risk. This requires a vigilant dedication to effective scanning practices. Fortunately, the human mind becomes quite adept at honing in on things that pose a danger to our well-being. As a result, we get better at scanning and recognizing hazards the longer we drive. Gather all of the information that can be gleaned from both your mirrors and visual field.

The challenge is to consider what situations might develop based on what you know about pedestrians, bicyclists, traffic, and the distraction-fueled chaos of your work environment. The goal is to remain a few steps ahead of potential problems. And this requires a plan… as well as constant updates.

The plan for the intersection forms during the middle third of the block or road segment. The middle third is vitally important as you must have a snapshot in your mind of all the potential threats and safety hazards that will be encountered as you enter into the final third, culminating at the intersection.

You must take the clues that were collected in the initial third and formulate your plan for dealing with those issues that require you to take action.

The final third is where you need to adjust and execute your plan. Intersections require extra care and attention as a relatively high percentage of incidents occur near, around, or smack dab in the middle of them. The average motorist will respond much differently to a stale green or yellow traffic signal than the professional bus operator. Expect them to use every second of the sequence to cross the intersection. And yes, they will be on your bumper hoping to entice you to proceed through a stale green or yellow signal, so if your standard operating procedures (SOP) dictates that you prepare to stop for such light conditions — make sure you do so smoothly to avoid being rear-ended.

If we are following too closely behind a large vehicle such as a tractor trailer, you may not be able to see the traffic signal until you have committed to entering the intersection. Remember: This situation can be avoided. You should still be able to see the crosswalk signal even if the traffic signal is obstructed. If the crosswalk signal is flashing, you are approaching an intersection indicating a stale green. Unless the crosswalk signal is equipped with a visual countdown, you have no way of knowing how long the light has been green. Therefore, you should assume it will soon change to yellow. What does your SOP advise you to do when you approach an intersection on stale green? On yellow? Act accordingly.

In review, this post presents an iterative process (Identify-Plan-Execute) that will help bus operators manage intersections effectively. If you have a suggestion to improve or expand on this narrative, please submit your idea by leaving a comment.

Steve Mentzer is Enterprise Sales Director, Public Transit and Government Fleets, for Lytx.

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