School bus safety is always top of mind for parents, bus drivers, and administrators alike. It’s the same way for us at Synovia Solutions as well. We’ve identified three trends in school bus safety that have dominated the first half of the 2015-16 school year. Let’s take a look at what’s happening – and how your school district could be affected.
THREE POINTS FOR SAFETY
In November, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) officially endorsed and recommended three-point safety belts for all school buses. In the past, the NHTSA has maintained that belt-less buses were safe, and acknowledged that retrofitting buses with belts would be costly. Their stance has now changed.
"The position of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is that seat belts save lives," said NHTSA administrator Mark Rosekind. "That is true whether in a passenger car or in a big yellow bus. And saving lives is what we are about. So NHTSA's policy is that every child on every school bus should have a three-point seat belt."
Any rulemaking effort from the NHTSA will face opposition, though. Adding seat belts to buses is an expensive endeavor. It can cost around $500 per seat on a full-size bus, meaning a total cost between $7,000 and $15,000 per bus in many cases. When school districts around the country are already strapped for cash, that investment simply may not be feasible.
The fact remains that seat belts save lives, though, and some states and school districts are moving forward despite the cost. The Rhode Island general assembly will consider a bill in its next session that would require all new bus purchases to include seat belts. The Houston Independent School District has already implemented the same requirement. In both cases the rule applies only to new buses, meaning that older buses will not be retrofitted with belts. This will increase the cost of new buses, but the burden on districts will be lighter than if older buses were also required to have belts. This is likely the safest, easiest, and most cost-effective way forward.
SHOWING NEW DRIVERS THE ROPES
School districts nationwide are having issues finding, hiring, and keeping good bus drivers. Only six percent of contracting companies this year reported that they had enough drivers (down from 15 percent just last year). This is partly because the economy is stronger than in recent years, so fewer people are seeking part-time work. This shortage is also due to heavy regulation of drivers.
The strict requirements to become a driver are necessary to keep students, as well as everyone else on the road, safe; however, these stipulations can deter people from pursuing a bus driver position. As a result, many districts are desperate for new drivers. From Minnesota to Colorado to Virginia, school districts are creatively recruiting new drivers to minimize the shortage.
It’s critical, though, that standards and training are not sacrificed in an effort to fill out a driver roster. In fact, the desperation to find drivers makes training even more important, and it’s something no district can skimp on. When a new driver isn’t properly trained, it can cause major problems.
Due to this, districts are using newer and more modern training methods to give drivers experience in a variety of situations. Advanced simulators give drivers hands-on experience in maneuvers that they may not typically encounter. They also provide a safe situation for practicing more complex training exercises, without having to worry about damage to a bus or equipment. This way an inexperienced driver can safely and quickly become proficient before he picks up a single child.
Part of that training is learning routes, and that can’t be done in a simulator. It’s important for managers to be able to monitor routes to make sure drivers are hitting their stops and driving efficiently. A tool like Synovia’s Comparative Analysis compares planned routes to actual routes using GPS tracking data. This information can be used to show new drivers where they’re going wrong, and how they can improve. If someone’s routinely missing a turn or taking the long way, they may not even know – and information is key.
Internal cameras have been popular for years as a way to help with discipline, both for riders and drivers. Any incident that happens on a bus is recorded and can be dealt with in an objective manner. Many districts are also adding external cameras to deal with a growing issue – other drivers ignoring bus stop arms.
According to the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services, 70,000 vehicles illegally pass stopped school buses each day. When it happens, the bus driver’s first priority is to make sure students are safe. That means they’re not typically able to identify a license plate. As such, cameras which automatically activate when a bus’ stop arm is engaged are becoming more popular.
It’s not entirely clear whether they have much of an effect, though. One example is the Laramie County School District in Wyoming, where state law requires cameras to be installed on all buses by 2016. Although the law is well-publicized, drivers are still passing stopped buses. According to transportation director Merle Smith, the district is still seeing double digit violations on a daily basis. In other districts, though, a deterrent effect has been reported. When a district can afford them and the law permits it, external cameras are more likely than not to be a good idea.
GIVE PARENTS PEACE OF MIND
Parents can’t control what happens to their children once they get on the bus. That responsibility belongs to bus drivers and transportation administrators. As a parent, putting a child’s safety in someone else’s hands can be frightening. One way you can ease their concern is with Here Comes the Bus®.
With Here Comes the Bus, parents know exactly when their child’s bus is near, and can send them to the bus stop at just the right time. No more long waits at the bus stop, and no more missed buses. For parents, such a simple thing can mean a lot. Combined with Synovia GPS and Comparative Analysis, Here Comes the Bus is a powerful tool to keep students safe.
You’re always thinking about student safety. Keep an eye on these bus safety trends while you’re readying for the second semester. With the right knowledge and the right tools in place, you and your parents will be able to rest at ease.