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The best school bus driver in the country works in Bellingham

Bellingham bus driver is national champ

Mark Miller, Bellingham School District substitute bus driver recently won first place in the transit category at the 46th Annual School Bus Driver International Safety Competition hosted by the National School Transportation Association in Greens
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Mark Miller, Bellingham School District substitute bus driver recently won first place in the transit category at the 46th Annual School Bus Driver International Safety Competition hosted by the National School Transportation Association in Greens

The man who earned the highest score at an international school bus driving competition just may have driven your children a time or two.

Mark Miller, 36, a substitute driver for Bellingham Public Schools, placed first in his division in the National School Transportation Association’s annual safety competition in Greensboro, N.C., on July 16 and 17. The competition and the award are considered by many to be the industry’s highest.

“It’s the biggest title in school transportation and it’s a real honor to get to carry the torch for a year,” Miller said Monday, July 25. “I can’t imagine a better title to have than to be ranked No. 1 school bus driver.”

Miller, who works full time as a pilot for Allegiant Air and flight instructor at Bellingham International Airport, has worked part time as a substitute bus driver for Bellingham Public Schools since 2009.

To qualify for the international competition, which includes drivers from across the United States and Canada, participants must first compete in their state or province’s safety competition that same year. This year’s competition drew 69 competitors, according to the National School Transportation Association.

It’s just a really fun, nonpretentious title to hold that represents a lot of the things I believe in, like kids and transportation and safety.

Mark Miller, substitute bus driver for Bellingham Public Schools, who won international bus-driving competition

Drivers vie for a perfect score of 775 points, 200 of which are associated with a written test of general knowledge questions about driving and safety. The remaining 575 points are earned behind the wheel, with exercises including parallel parking the 40-foot bus in a 46-foot stall. Other exercises require drivers to navigate a series of obstacles such as crooked alleyways, or back the buses into 10-foot-wide parking stalls.

Many of the events are timed, and small infractions result in deduction from a driver’s overall score. A tire that touches the curb in a parallel parking exercise, for example, results in a loss of 50 points, according to the event handbook.

Miller said it was a “good day behind the wheel” that led to his score of 631 points, the highest out of all other divisions. This is his fourth win in the international competition, having also won in 2010, 2011 and 2014. He also has won eight times at the local level and seven times at the state level, he said.

“He’s just taken that to a new level – the attention to detail and technical aspect of being a bus driver,” said Rae Anne Thon, transportation director for Bellingham Public Schools. “But the great news is … he’s also really wonderful at working with children, which makes him really the full package.”

“It’s just a really fun, nonpretentious title to hold that represents a lot of the things I believe in,” Miller said, “like kids and transportation and safety.”

Kyle Mittan: 360-756-2803, @KyleMittan

Driving tips

Mark Miller, a substitute bus driver for Bellingham Public Schools who earned the highest score at an international school bus driving competition earlier this month, offers some best driving practices to everyday drivers:

Scan your mirrors: It’s important to always know where all four corners of your vehicle are by regularly checking the center and side mirrors.

Scan the road: Good drivers are regularly looking 12 to 15 seconds ahead of where they are on the road.

Signal for other drivers: Signaling at every turn helps other drivers avoid stopping short or having to turn suddenly.

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