A woman with a headache relieves some industry pain

Steve Hirano, Editor
Posted on April 1, 2000

By now you’ve probably seen her. More than likely, she’s been in your living room telling you that she’s in the shipping business — hauling precious cargo — and can’t let a headache shake her concentration. Yes, she’s a school bus driver. And, yes, Advil cures her headache. What’s interesting about this television commercial is how it has resonated within the school transportation community. Through the grapevine, I’ve heard that school bus drivers, especially, have embraced this 30-second sales pitch like a newly found twin. Not content to exult in silence, some have phoned and e-mailed Advil’s manufacturer, Whitehall-Robins, to thank the company for the positive imagery. Although the woman in the commercial seems rather prone to headaches, she apparently radiates a level-headed sensibility and cheerful attractiveness that we would like America to believe is the essence of the person who sits behind the wheel of their children’s school bus.

Why we’re so pleased
The gratitude the school bus community feels for this depiction stems from its sharp contrast to the usual way in which the media characterizes the industry and, in particular, school bus drivers. It’s almost frightening to consider that television’s most enduring depiction of a school bus driver is Otto, the head-banging, pot-smoking character from The Simpsons. I’m not saying, however, that the news media is unduly harsh or unfair in its coverage of school bus drivers. We need only look at a recent incident to see that irresponsible — and criminal — behavior by a bus driver cannot be ignored. The incident I’m referring to is the drunk-driving arrest of a veteran school bus driver in Virginia Beach, Va. Reports indicate that this driver’s blood alcohol level was .23, almost four times the legal limit. And she allegedly had an open container on the bus, not to mention more than 20 schoolchildren. I bring up this incident because it was heatedly discussed during a talk radio show here in Southern California. Now I’m sure that motorists are arrested every day for driving while similarly intoxicated. Unless they’re a celebrity, however, their arrests don’t make the local news, much less a radio show more than 3,000 miles away.

Scrutiny is unavoidable
This industry, because of its charter, is under a magnifying glass, with every blemish turned into a 20-second segment on the evening news. When you do your job perfectly, no one shows up with a film crew to document your success. But if you falter just once, a camera and microphone will be waiting for you. We often talk about the 1 or 2 percent of the children on the bus who are responsible for nearly all of the mischief and harmful behavior. School transportation employees are no different. A small percentage of them end up on the local news. We see them being led into court in a baggy jumpsuit, and we cringe when the news anchor describes them as school bus drivers. The woman with the headache is a more pleasing image — and much closer to reality.

Related Topics: media relations

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