Distractions everywhere

Steve Hirano, Editor/Associate Publisher
Posted on April 1, 2005
I was stopped at a traffic light next to a school bus the other day and noticed a soda can perched on the instrument panel. I couldn’t help but wonder if the driver had the discipline to refrain from slaking her thirst while the bus was in motion. I hope so, but, as a general rule, if you assume the worst, you’re right surprisingly often.

The problem isn’t just that drinking while driving is a distraction. While that’s true, it’s also possible for a driver to fumble a drink, causing hot coffee or cold water to spill into their laps. This is not only physically unpleasant but also has a predictably bad effect on your concentration.

Many school districts and contractors have a policy prohibiting drivers from bringing food or drink aboard a school bus. And those that don’t most likely prohibit drivers from drinking or eating while the bus is moving. As we all know, however, policies and procedures are easily ignored, especially when they’re inconvenient.

Part of the problem is that we break these rules all the time in our personal vehicles, when we’re free to do as we please. You certainly could ask: If drinking a Coke while driving is dangerous, why do automobile manufacturers install cupholders? The answer is irrelevant, of course, where the safety of schoolchildren is concerned.

Bending the rules?
Bus drivers, on the whole, follow the rules. They take their jobs seriously and understand the huge responsibility that sits squarely on their shoulders every school day. But they sometimes bend the rules, as we all do occasionally.

When bus drivers bend the rules, however, people’s lives are put in jeopardy. Not just the occupants of the school bus, but also other motorists and pedestrians. That’s why we can’t afford to allow these types of infractions, minor as they might seem.

While I’m on my soap box about dangerous distractions, allow me to reintroduce the issue of cell phones. Although nothing’s been proven yet, media reports indicated that a school bus driver in suburban Washington, D.C., lost control of her vehicle while she was trying to answer a cell phone that was ringing in her purse (see Industry News, pg. 11, March 2005).

The bus reportedly crossed the median, struck a pole, left the roadway and plunged 20 feet down an embankment. Fortunately, the bus did not roll over and none of its 20-plus occupants were seriously injured.

It’s bad enough when other motorists distracted by their cell phones cause accidents, but when a bus driver is the one at fault, it’s worse. Much worse. We all know that school buses are the safest form of surface transportation, but the general public only knows what it reads in the newspaper or sees on the evening news.

Some states have passed laws prohibiting school bus drivers from using cell phones while driving. That’s probably a good idea. If an important phone call does need to be made, the driver should pull over to the side of the road. If the call isn’t important, it should not be made.

No double standards
Whether it’s reminding drivers about not bringing food on the bus or using their cell phones while the bus is in motion, it’s always a good time to revisit the rules. You’d be surprised how quickly people forget. And there are always a stream of new employees who may be hearing your reminder for the first time.

But you can’t have it both ways. If you’re a supervisor and occasionally have to fill in for a driver, you have to follow the same rules. No food, drink or cell phones. That’s a tough diet for some, but there’s no room for double standards in this industry.

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