With legislative sessions starting up and school district budgets dwindling, the issue of school bus ads is again making headlines.
As of this writing, bills to allow advertising on school buses had made progress in at least two state Legislatures' 2012 sessions.
In Kentucky, the state House's education committee in early January approved a bill that would allow school boards to sell advertising space on school buses. Sponsor Rep. Terry Mills' bill aims to produce revenues for schools, and it would prohibit ads of alcohol and tobacco products, as well as political or campaign advertisements.
But some committee members expressed concern that the legislation could pose safety risks by creating visual distractions to drivers, or could open the door to advertisements for school-inappropriate products.
Also in early January, legislation that would permit ads on school buses barely passed a Florida Senate education committee. As The Associated Press (AP) reported, it would have died if not for the support of a critical senator, who said she only voted for it so its sponsor would have a chance to improve it.
Yellow is boring?
In another eyebrow-raising decision, a fellow senator who voted for the Florida bill said he feels that yellow school buses are a bit dull.
"I'd kind of like to see them jazzed up a little bit," AP quoted Sen. Thad Altman as saying. "If it's done right, it could be fun."
Yet it's safety, not looking "jazzed up," that is the most critical goal of the school bus industry.
Among its stipulations for advertising content, the Florida Senate bill states that a contract would have to prohibit ads that "distract from the effectiveness of required safety warning equipment."
So how can an ad, which is designed to catch people's attention, not distract from the safety equipment on a school bus?
Focus on distraction
Distracted driving has been a front-burner issue in recent years at federal transportation agencies, including the Department of Transportation — which has launched an annual Distracted Driving Summit and has developed related rulemakings — and the National Transportation Safety Board - which in December called for the first-ever nationwide ban on the use of personal electronic devices while operating a motor vehicle.
Talking and texting on cell phones while driving is typically the focal point of federal actions, but it doesn't seem like a stretch to make a connection between distracted driving and advertisements on and around roads.
In some cities, tall buildings are being wrapped in larger-than-life ads that all but guarantee to take eyes off of the road.
In an updated position paper on school bus advertising issued last year, the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services raised the distracted driving issue.
The association said that school bus exterior ads' "displacement of school bus coloration and the potential increase to motorist distraction, a known cause of motor vehicle crashes, present a safety problem around school buses that cannot be ignored."
Unfortunately, safety problems around school buses don't appear to be a primary concern for some of our state legislators.