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December 04, 2012  |   Comments (10)   |   Post a comment

School bus drivers: Is trust enough?

The message should be framed not as “this monitoring device is here to make sure you don’t break the rules” but as “this device is here to protect you as well as the students.”

by Frank Di Giacomo - Also by this author


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Do you trust your school bus drivers to make the right decisions?

That question came to mind recently when I read about a new antenna device that can be installed in commercial vehicles to identify cell phone wave frequencies in the driver area. If the device detects a phone call or texting, it gives the driver a verbal warning and alerts a manager.

One way to react to this new technology is to be discouraged — discouraged that there is a need for this type of device, that some professional drivers would disregard the safety of others and themselves just to take a phone call or text at the wheel.

Indeed, there seems to be a growing market for technology that monitors drivers in various ways — from recording video of their actions at the wheel to detecting speeding, hard braking, idling, etc.

This brings us back to the question: Do you trust your school bus drivers to make the right decisions? Or maybe a better question would be: Does technology make trust irrelevant when it comes to driver behavior?

High stakes
In my opinion, these cell phone detection and other driver-monitoring technologies are worthy investments for school bus operations for one simple reason: precious cargo.

With dozens of children on board, the stakes are just too high to solely rely on trust that all school bus drivers will do the right thing all of the time.

Now, that’s not to say that trust is an outdated notion. Hiring trustworthy people to drive our yellow buses is as important as ever — people who have good references and clean backgrounds, people who can be depended on to report to work every day and who show a genuine interest in providing students a safe ride to and from school.

But in these days, the temptations for distraction are powerful. It could be so easy and harmless, one might think in the moment, to just pull out the cell phone and check a text or make a quick call.

But as we’re constantly reminded by distracted driving data from the U.S. Department of Transportation and other safety-related agencies and organizations, a moment of taking one’s eyes off of the road could have fatal consequences.

Helpful technology
In a way, a device that detects cell phone use actually supports the driver — by thwarting that temptation to use the phone and setting clear expectations for focused driving.

Another argument for driver-monitoring technologies is that they can help in vindicating drivers who are falsely accused. Surveillance camera footage, for example, could show that a school bus driver didn’t do what a student claimed he or she did.

With these monitoring technologies, the message to drivers should be framed not as “this device is here to make sure you don’t break the rules” but as “this device is here to protect you as well as the students.”

Technology can’t make people do the right thing, but it can serve as a backup to trust.


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Read more about: cell phones, distracted driving, video surveillance

This happens everywhere. I am in Texas and no amount of training will make a difference unless the driver makes wise decisions. We have between 65 and 85 hrs of trainng every year. Newsletters and articles, reminders every week and sometimes every day by the Director about cell phone use and other rules. Still someone is caught on the survelliance camera. Progressive discipline is used and still we have repeat offenders. People have been fired and still there is someone else who just has to use their phone.

Karen    |    Apr 16, 2013 02:41 PM

With all the other technological and personnel resources available to monitor driver performance for school bus drivers; this particular device goes a little overboard. If you are confident in the training you provide and relationships with your driving force; you can tell if they would "do the right thing" just through those daily interactions. For those in question: do those unannounced road observations; ride along for on the spot training; review, review and review again your company policies and the ramifications of violating those polices. Do we really need another "watch dog" in place?

Robin    |    Apr 12, 2013 09:32 AM

"Trust but verify." From the words of Ronald Regan.

Dave    |    Mar 08, 2013 11:35 AM

Instead of expensive monitoring systems to keep an eye on the driver; why not provide further education instead. Busdrivers are required to attend classes every other year...Instructors can elaborate more on texting and cell phone usage to keep awareness fresh in their minds. Hefty fines would do the trick. Getting people to drive a school bus is getting harder to find and I blame the negative media attention on that. I believe that the majority of school bus drivers are sincere people that do a great job. Another issue is the lack of parent support....If they think it is so easy to discipline 65-92 passengers with their backs to the students--think again! Back the driver - or shut your mouth about it. If you don't like the write ups that your child is bringing home---then start transporting them yourself. A busdriver has better things to keep their mind and attention to than 'picking on your child'. If the child wasn't being so distracting; the busdriver has no reason to write them up----duh! A parents own attitude reflects the attitude of the child. If you say negative things about your childrens' busdriver; then they will display the same disrespect on the bus--THAT is what will get them in trouble. When a child knows that you will respect the drivers' concerns about behavior on the bus; then the child tends to be mindful of their own behavior. I have driven school bus for 38 years--I know what I'm talking about. Thank you to all school bus drivers--We do a great job---despite the negative attention. Keep up the good work!

Terri B    |    Feb 09, 2013 09:33 PM

We live in the Central Ohio area. Currently, my grandkids are suspended from riding the bus morning and evening because the bus driver said no one was at the stop to meet the Kindergardners. Now, the computer print-out indicates that she left the stop 10 mins. 'early' before the person could get there. Theerefore, she kept the students on the bus and took them to the bus garage, where I was eventually, called to pick them up (parents at work). This is causing confusion and stress on the 4 K-2 Students, as well as the adults. As this is a new driver, this year, I would like to know more about her. This is only one incident where she has gotten them suspended from the bus. I don't understand. If she doesn't like kids she should not be a school bus driver! Please advise. Need to speak with someone concerning details of this situation. Thank you.

Mayetta B.    |    Jan 30, 2013 10:56 AM

Excellent discourse, Frank, on a difficult topic. There's no easy answer to balancing trust and autonomy of most employees against the potentially disastrous consequences of ill-advised actions by a few. I'm not even sure where I stand on these technologies, but some, like automatic vehicle locating systems and electronic onboard data recorders have so many other benefits that I think their ubiquity is inevitable. And what about systems that disallow putting the bus in gear if the driver hasn't fastened his or her three-point shoulder harness? A NHTSA study showed those are highly effective in getting the remaining few incalcitrant commercial drivers to buckle up. The question is whether we should be managing by exception when our safety record is already unparalleled. And if we do, at what cost to budgets and morale? I don't have those answers, but the discussion is needed.

Charlie Hood    |    Dec 10, 2012 11:49 AM

The question might be could the drivers trust management to behave responsibly with this technology? Keep in mind that valid research has proven management is the leading instigator of bullying in the hostile workplace. Cameras installed on the school bus ought to be standard equipment, in my opinion, including vans and other vehicles used to transport children. This is not because of a lack of trust per say, but is a record to capture the 80% or so that the typical bus driver will miss during a route. I also like kids having the camera in their cell phones - much can be captured that reveals what is happening inside the bus at any given time. The device has turned out to be an annoyance to officials that would prefer to keep whistleblowing contained. The driver's use of a cell phone with bluetooth features creates no greater risk than the two-way radio. Regardless, the abuse of either creates issues. That said the greatest neglect concerning our nation's school buses are loud, unruly children repeatedly permitted to interfere with the drivers duties, including safely driving the bus.

jkraemer    |    Dec 05, 2012 11:15 PM

It boils down to drivers and monitors coming to an agreement with a simple policy they can all live with. Really, the policy is only as good as the folks who adhere to it. Everyone has the choice to answer a cell phone or look at a text message while driving. Simply do not do it while driving. If it is an emergency then your family members should call your central office so the office can send out a sub-driver to meet you while the office is asking you to pull over and call the emergency contact person. If it is not an emergency situation - really - cell phone calls and text messages can wait until a safe time to respond to your electronic device. Remember - Insurance Companies involved with accident claims can and do gain access to YOUR cell phone records. If you are involved in an accident at the very time you are found to have been engaged in a electronic message or cell phone call - where will your fault be discovered if this is the case when the judge and or jury is viewing your cell phone records in a courtroom? Some places don't allow you to take cell phones on bus routes at all. You have to leave them in your personal vehicle or a locker in the terminal you drive out of. It is just easier to just leave your cell phones turned OFF while you are ON the bus IN the driver's seat.

Dan Luttrell    |    Dec 05, 2012 01:03 PM

I agree with Gregg's comment. The only way it would work is if it could be programmed with the driver's cell phone number, but then again all it would take is for the driver to buy a disposable cell phone if he/she was trying to get around the system.

KL    |    Dec 05, 2012 05:03 AM

This would be useless since 72 elementary or 48 HS/MS students on the bus would trigger the cellular wave alarm with their cell phone.

Gregg Tulowitzky    |    Dec 05, 2012 04:27 AM

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