Although both groups are required to obtain a CDL and navigate large vehicles down streets and highways, commercial truck drivers and school bus drivers perform extraordinarily different tasks.
Truck drivers rarely ply the same residential neighborhoods day after day at the same appointed hours. And they are less likely than school bus drivers to work as a team, connected by radio so they stay in constant contact.
Other differences include the nature of the training they receive and the objectives of their employers.
The biggest difference, of course, is that truck drivers haul goods, while school bus drivers transport children. But you’re well aware of the unique nature of the cargo that the nation’s bus drivers shepherd from home to school and to extracurricular activities.
Differences are important
Why do I emphasize the differences between commercial truck drivers and school bus drivers?
Because I want to add my voice to those in our industry who are cautioning against enrolling school bus drivers in the Highway Watch¨ Program sponsored by the American Trucking Associations (ATA).
This program, partially funded by nearly $20 million given to the ATA by the Transportation Security Administration of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, was launched last year to provide voluntary security training to millions of commercial drivers nationwide.
Highway Watch casts a wide net. In addition to commercial truck drivers, it also is being offered to school bus drivers. That’s where the problem lies.
As mentioned in a Dec. 17, 2004, letter disseminated by the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT), the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS) and the National School Transportation Association (NSTA), the existing program does not accommodate the unique nature of the school transportation industry.
The three associations offered to join with the ATA in an effort to develop a school bus-specific program. “We believe that the approximately 600,000 school bus drivers who travel the streets and roads in America on any given school day are truly the ‘eyes and ears’ of their community and would, therefore, make a logical partner in this program,” states the letter. Their offer, however, has been in vain, as the Highway Watch Program has not been adapted for use by school bus operators.
Associations are gearing up
I recently attended the NSTA’s mid-winter meeting in New Mexico, which brought together the leaders of the NAPT, NASDPTS and NSTA. During the meeting, they emphasized the need for a partnership among school bus industry interests in advancing security efforts.
Although it’s often politically correct to partner with outside organizations that are trying to be inclusive, it’s important that the pupil transportation industry stand on its own when the need arises.
This is one of those cases. The public and private representatives of our industry are jointly working on a training program that will address issues unique to pupil transportation and school bus drivers. When the training program is ready, probably this spring, it will undoubtedly meet the high standards necessary to bolster the security and safety of the nation.