I am really excited to see schools reopening for in-person learning around the country. As a parent of a first grader, I received the news last month that my daughter will be going back five days a week.
This positive signal tells me that school buses should be ramping up for larger ridership capacities as schools get back to business. I see things returning to near-normal for the 2021-2022 school year. But as that happens, familiar safety challenges will also re-emerge. As a leader, are you prepared to re-instill a relentless vision of safety for your transportation team to follow?
One major safety concern I see is passenger vehicles and their respective drivers being out of practice around school buses. Some motorists take care around school buses, while other drivers display dangerous behaviors that could end in tragedy. Too many people simply drive distracted and without concern for the consequences and the lives they could impact.
According to the National Safety Council, motor vehicle deaths occurring in 2020 are
estimated to be the highest in 13 years, despite dramatic drops in total miles driven. Data also shows a 24 percent spike in roadway death rates, which is the highest such figure in 96 years. It’s clear that driver behavior has changed during the pandemic. This data indicates to me that people are driving faster and becoming more reckless on our roads. Perhaps there is a false sense of security. How do we respond as an industry? School bus drivers must sharpen their skills quickly as transportation departments continue to ramp up operations to support students returning to school.
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According to Jeff Cassell, president and founder of the School Bus Safety Company, the lack of practice equals a loss of proficiency and sharpness for school drivers and children. It all comes back to training, driver behavior, and best practices. Establish your norms for safety and hold your team accountable.
Wouldn’t you agree that school bus safety in the danger zone is a persistent problem our industry hasn’t been able to fully solve? It is certainly a daunting challenge for school districts and bus contractors.
My advice is to do your homework on new technology like stop-arm enforcement camera programs and predictive stop-arm technology. I sure don’t want to see another headline of a student being hit and potentially killed by an illegally passing vehicle while attempting to board his or her school bus.
Also, be sure to keep up with the latest and greatest training and products available to you at virtual, state and national conferences. I’m excited to see industry professionals again at in-person conferences this fall. Be sure to save the dates for STN EXPO in Indianapolis on Oct. 1-5 and in Reno, Nevada, Dec. 4-9. Also, the Transporting Student with Disabilities & Special Needs Conference near Dallas, Nov. 17-22. More details can be found at stnexpo.com.
The school bus industry continuously preaches that it offers children the safest way of getting to and from school as well as activity trips and sporting events. But I challenge you all to consider how to make operations even safer. Be sure to train, train and train some more as we prepare for a return to the new normal. It’s easy to fall into the trap of providing service the way we always have and then expecting a different result. Let’s not be the living definition of insanity. Instead, continually strive to be the best and the safest you can be.
Editor’s Note: As reprinted in the May 2021 issue of School Transportation News