The 2012 National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) Summit was held in Memphis, Tenn., in October, and the program offered attendees information on a wide range of issues impacting the industry. Distracted driving and bullying were the subjects of several sessions. Presenters discussed their effects, ways to avoid inattentive driving and how to address bullying incidents.
A notable event of the trade show was Blue Bird Corp.’s unveiling of its redesigned 2014 All American Type D buses.
Managers’ role in distracted driving
Much has been reported on the dangers of distracted driving by motorists. In an interesting session by Kathleen Furneaux, executive director of the Pupil Transportation Safety Institute, she talked about ways that transportation managers can create distractions for bus drivers while they’re on the road, and how to curb this.
Routes that are inefficient and spaced too close together can lead to a dangerous situation, Furneaux said, because it fosters rushing on the part of the bus driver. By extension, if routes are too full, this can be stressful for drivers.
Furneaux encouraged transportation directors and managers to review their routes and revise them if necessary, particularly if drivers say that they don’t have enough time to complete them, and make eliminating overloaded routes a priority.
Unnecessary two-way radio use while the bus is in operation is also a distraction for drivers, and managers should be proactive in preventing it by having a policy in place and enforcing it, she added.
Examples of unnecessary radio use include conversations between drivers, delivering holiday greetings, and even delivering safety messages.
“Instead of saying safety messages over the radio, put an announcement in the drivers’ lounge or in their mailboxes, or say it before they start their route,” Furneaux added.
Beyond the school bus environment, if a manager has a bad attitude, this can rub off on the rest of the team, thereby impacting drivers’ actions behind the wheel.
“Your behavior becomes the noise in a driver’s head, which can lead to distracted driving,” Furneaux said.
She encouraged attendees to be positive role models for their staff, and ensure that they’re supporting them. This means not only getting drivers the information they need in a timely manner, but communicating to them how you, as the manager, are advocating for them.
Distracted driving in school bus tragedies
Distracted driving was also the focus of a keynote presentation at the summit. Christopher Hart, vice chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), addressed recent crashes that the agency has investigated or is still investigating.
In the NTSB’s investigation of the August 2010 fatal crash in Gray Summit, Mo., involving a pickup truck, truck-tractor and two school buses, the agency determined that the probable cause of the initial collision was distraction, likely due to a text messaging conversation being conducted by the pickup driver.
NTSB found that the second collision, between the lead school bus and the pickup, was the result of the bus driver’s inattention to the forward roadway due to excessive focus on a motorcoach parked on the shoulder of the road.
And the final collision, the agency said, was due to the driver of the following school bus not maintaining the recommended minimum distance from the lead school bus in the seconds preceding the accident. “That’s a training issue,” Hart said of the following distance problem.
Cell phone use is a “huge” problem in all modes of transportation, and “it’s going to get worse before it gets better,” he told NAPT attendees. “It’s very important to have a corporate policy on cell phone use.”
Another presentation also took a hard look at a tragic school bus accident.
Hunter Pitt, a 6-year-old in Callaway County, Mo., was killed in January 2011 when his school bus ran over him as he crossed in front. The boy’s parents later worked with the Missouri Association for Pupil Transportation, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and other state organizations to create a video that explains the accident and emphasizes the importance of school bus drivers staying focused, particularly when children are loading and unloading.
Willie Leonberger, the driver of the bus that ran over Hunter, said that a commotion on the bus distracted him as Hunter was unloading, and he also pointed to complacency as a factor.
“I believe when we get into a routine, we can lose our focus on what we are doing,” the former bus driver said in the video. “That accident changed my life and caused a lot of heartbreak and sorrow for Hunter’s family.”
Handling bullying and student behavior management
Bullying and student behavior were once again the topic of sessions at the summit. A panel moderated by attorney Peggy Burns of Education Compliance Group covered student conduct on the school bus — specifically, where behavior management on the part of school transportation staff ends and law enforcement becomes necessary.
The panelists were Sunil Mansukhani, principal at The Raben Group, Pete Meslin, director of transportation at Newport-Mesa (Calif.) Unified School District, and Bret Brooks, senior consultant at Gray Ram Tactical LLC.
Mansukhani noted that it’s important for all stakeholders — school transportation officials, school officials, parents, law enforcement, etc. — to get involved to determine what happened when incidents occur, and he said that a bullied student who reacts violently “should not get off scot-free.”
Brooks noted that school districts should have a good working relationship with their local law enforcement agency, and he said that working with law enforcement can prevent situations on the bus from escalating into violent episodes.
Meslin agreed with Brooks regarding the district-law enforcement relationship. If an incident takes place, Meslin said, the district and law enforcement officials may be able to help one another.
As an example, the district “may have background information [on the students] that law enforcement may not have,” he explained.
In another joint presentation, Dr. Allan Beane, founder of Bully Free Systems, and Chris Ellison, director of transportation at Greater Albany (Ore.) Public Schools and past-president of the Oregon Pupil Transportation Association (OPTA), discussed how to respond when bullying is seen or heard on the bus.
A video created by the OPTA for training purposes was shown. It depicts a student continuously being bullied on the bus, with the driver taking no action to stop it. The student ultimately takes matters into his own hands, bringing a gun on the bus and taking it hostage.
In discussing the contents of the video, Beane said that bullying can’t be ignored, and when drivers become aware of it on their buses, they must respond immediately. He also recommended maintaining an open line of communication with all of the students involved.
When actually approaching an incident, Beane said the driver should be calm and assertive, giving the bully a direction, such as, “I need you to move to a seat at the front of the bus.”
Another version of the video then showed steps that the bus driver should have taken to prevent the bullying from escalating into a hostage situation.
In addition to addressing the situation immediately, drivers should get all of the facts right away and make sure that they support the victim by assuring him or her that they will make the bullying stop.
“It’s up to the driver to take the initiative to follow the steps,” Ellison said.
On the trade show floor
At the trade show, Blue Bird unveiled its 2014 All American forward-engine and rear-engine school buses.
Company officials said that features include superior fuel efficiency, turning radius, driver visibility and paint warranty. Also on board are a new passenger window design with “ultra-smooth operation” and enhanced serviceability.
Additionally, the cockpit has been redesigned to comfortably fit virtually any body size. The ergonomics are similar to those of the Blue Bird Vision, so drivers can transfer between the Vision and All American product lines without having to learn a new cockpit layout, according to the company.
Also at the trade show, attendees were introduced to a new nonprofit initiative aimed at helping veterans find jobs in the industry.
Warriors in the Workplace puts employers in contact with qualified veterans of the U.S. military for positions such as mechanics, school bus drivers and routing specialists, and in such areas as manufacturing, management, purchasing, communications, and safety and training. Sponsors will be able to list their open positions on www.warriorsintheworkplace.org, and they will have their contribution recognized at trade shows and hiring events that the organization attends.
For information on some of the new products that were at the trade show, go here.
To see more photos from the NAPT Summit and sights in Memphis, Tenn., click here.
Pupil transporters honored for dedication, achievements
Pupil transportation professionals were honored for their contributions to the industry at the association’s annual awards banquet, which included dinner with musical accompaniment.
Here are the award recipients:
• Larson Quality Award — Dysart Unified School District, Surprise, Ariz.
• Heroism Award (sponsored by Blue Bird) — Cathy Snow, Elk Grove (Calif.) Unified School District
• Continuing Education Award (sponsored by Thomas Built Buses) — Heather Handschin, Spotsylvania County (Va.) Schools
• Driver Training and Safety Award (sponsored by IC Bus) — Steve Simmons, Columbus (Ohio) City Schools
• Special Needs Transportation Award (sponsored by Sure-Lok) — Victoria Creech, Orange County Public Schools, Orlando, Fla.
• SBF’s Administrator of the Year — David Anderson, Adams 12 Five Star Schools, Thornton, Colo.
• America’s Best School Bus Technician — Alan Fidler, Tippecanoe School Corp., Lafayette, Ind.
• America’s Best School Bus Inspector — Jack Defibaugh, Greenbrier County (W.Va.) Schools
• School Transportation News Leadership Award — Charley Kennington, Innovative Transportation Solutions, Houston
NAPT annual poster contest winners
Entries for the 2012 NAPT National School Bus Safety Week Poster Contest were on display at the trade show.
The theme of the contest was “Stand Back From the Yellow and Black.” Cesar Davila of Brownsville, Texas, took first place in Division III and was the overall winner of the contest.
The other winners are:
Division I (K through 2nd)
First: Shivangi Ojha Pirtle of Belton, Texas
Second: Andres Alvarez of Peoria, Ill.
Third: Lindsay Mueller of Linn, Kan.
Division II (3rd through 5th)
First: Regina Gutierrez of Baldwin, N.Y.
Second: Mary Massey of Lafayette, Tenn.
Third: Jennifer Sieredzki of Clayton, N.C.
Division III (6th through 8th)
First and overall winner: Cesar Davila of Brownsville, Texas
Second: Mark Jarrell of Mount Zion, Ga.
Third: Carly McCloy of Chillicothe, Ohio
Division IV (special needs)
First: Kendra Diggs of Dendron, Va.
Second: McKenzie Spong of Port Charlotte, Fla.
Third: Andrew Sarles of Sandusky, Mich.
Division V (computer aided design)
First: Cathryn Phetsomphou of Sherwood, Ore.
Second: Ronando Moore of Colorado Springs, Colo.
Third: Elizabeth Trail of Palmetto, Fla.
Division VI (international)
First: Haley Rowe of Misawa Air Base, Japan
Second: Tabitha Smith of Misawa Air Base, Japan
Third: Jeric Locquiao of Misawa Air Base, Japan