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October 01, 2006  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

Confronting the Top 10 Safety Concerns

Although stop-arm violations are a top safety concern for school bus operations across the nation, other transportation-related issues can be just as vexing. The following list identifies the most common challenges pupil transporters face and effective ways of dealing with them.

by Albert Neal, Associate Editor


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You are not alone. Your colleagues across the country are dealing with some of the same issues you deal with on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. Whether it’s the unruly behavior of middle school students or a driver with a substance-abuse problem, faulty equipment or a challenging school site issue, many of your peers experience the same challenges.

Keeping the lines of communication open — meaning sharing ideas to tackle these common and sometimes recurring problems — is the best policy. Furthermore, knowing exactly what to do before a problem occurs can mean the difference between futile panic or a tactfully approached solution.

In an online survey, we asked pupil transporters to identify their top safety concerns. The following list presents those concerns in the order that the 91 respondents ranked them. Additionally, we followed up with several respondents to uncover how they take on these challenges.

Share these ideas with your staff and neighboring districts or contractors. Working together to solve common problems is the best way to ensure that children stay safe on the way to and from school each day.

1. Stop-arm violations
As one of the leading causes of danger-zone fatalities, stop-arm violations show no signs of slowing down.

Drivers and attendants have to be more vigilant than ever when unloading students, especially near highways with shoulders where cars may pass on the right side of the school bus.

Many operations have involved law enforcement in an effort to curtail the problem. Ordinances have been passed through which drivers can receive hefty fines for first and repeat offenses, but even these have barely entered the radar for some commuters who are in a rush to get where they’re going. It’s all very frustrating to say the least.

David Stoeger, transportation specialist at Wyoming Child and Family Development in Guernsey, Wyo., has mixed feelings about the response from authorities near his operation. Drivers are instructed to complete a form whenever a violation occurs. The form, complete with the violator’s license plate number, is then turned over to police.

“Law enforcement is supposed to follow up, but they don’t,” Stoeger says. “It isn’t a real priority.” Stoeger has called for weeks trying to get results, but it has been to no avail. One officer told him the offender couldn’t be found, but Stoeger’s driver passes near the offender’s home and sees him during her route.

Stoeger encourages his drivers to not lose hope and to continue doing their jobs. He calls the police weekly to check on the status of particular cases, engages the city attorney occasionally about the problem and has considered advances in technology, such as stop-arm cameras to help identify offenders.

2. Student behavior
Middle school students are the worst when it comes to poor student behavior, says Nancy Porzio, driver representative at Glastonbury (Conn.) Independent School District (GISD). Although middle school students aren’t the only ones behaving badly on school buses, they do hold the reputation for being the most visible in this area. The types of behavior, from walking in the aisles when the bus is moving to fighting, range from region to region and bus to bus. But the level of frustration these situations cause is pervasively high.

Ray Tinkey, driver trainer for First Student in Woodburn, Ore., sees great potential for liability when those who drive only for the paycheck sit behind the wheel of a bus with unruly students aboard. But the behavior of the driver is often tolerated because of a driver shortage.

“It’s tough not having manpower so that you can discipline drivers who don’t follow the rules,” Tinkey says. “Kids walk over these drivers, which leaves room for liability and poor safety standards.”

A driver’s duty is to mind the road and maintain order on the school bus.

“We’ve been informed to make paper trails,” says Porzio at GISD. “They say if we don’t do that, then there is no proof.”

Paper trails begin with referrals to school officials regarding the behavior of a particular student. A series of referrals should end with some meaningful action, beginning with warnings all the way up to suspension or a student losing his or her privilege to ride the bus.

Porzio says drivers have come up with their own solutions when they can’t get results from school administration. Some drivers turn down their radios, pull their buses over or drive to the nearest police station.

3. Properly trained drivers
Adults and children have similar learning styles; one of the most common is the need for repetition. Tracy Rothrock, a school bus driver and driver trainer at South Central Community Action Program, a Head Start in Bloomington, Ind., constantly reminds her drivers of the vital responsibilities they carry as school bus drivers. She’s unnerved by the rate of fatalities that occur in the danger zone, and she emphasizes to drivers the need to constantly check mirrors before moving the bus. Rothrock sees a level of variance in the way different operations train drivers and believes that there should be a universal training method.

Rothrock first noticed the inconsistencies through perusal of several school district Websites. “I’ve looked at other schools’ training Websites, and they are different,” she says.

While different geographical locations call for different measures, certainly some training requirements can be standardized.

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Read more about: behavior management, driver training, emissions, post-trip child check, railroad crossing, school site safety, stop arm running/illegal passing

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