The U.S. school bus industry has been unwavering in its support of safety, with an unparalleled safety record to show for it. From the design of the buses to the training of drivers to the location of the bus stops, the industry has applied a full-court press to the issue of safe passage of our children.
I think more can be done. We do a wonderful job safely transporting the approximately 24 million schoolchildren who climb aboard our buses each school day. But we haven’t been as successful in convincing parents and children who choose not to use our service that school buses are the safest, most convenient method of getting to and from school. We need to extend our safe practices to those children who are choosing not to ride the bus.
Think like a marketer
How? We need to do a much better job marketing ourselves. Even though we might not like to admit it, we are always battling an image problem. Yes, the yellow school bus is a venerated symbol of the U.S. educational system, often appearing in the background of TV news reports issuing from a school campus. But the reality is that most students, especially the older ones, view the school bus with disdain.
We need to deal with that perception by attacking it from another angle. Let’s face it — we’ll never change the minds of young people. Let’s work on their parents.
If they really knew how much more dangerous it is for their children to ride to and from school in an automobile rather than a bus, they might think twice. That’s the message that we need to send: Buses are not only convenient, but many times safer than cars.
As you’re probably aware, the Transportation Research Board of the National Academies for Science released a study in 2002 that found that teenagers who drive themselves or ride with friends to school — rather than ride a school bus — significantly increase their risk of being killed in a traffic accident. You need to figure out a way to relay this information to parents.
Use words like arrows
Here are a few ways to hit your target audience:
Develop a letter that can be sent to parents that encourages them to take advantage of the safety and convenience of your school buses. Your position will be greatly strengthened if you mention the heightened risk of teenagers driving themselves or riding with other student drivers to school.
Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper to the same effect. The letters section is one of the most highly read sections in the newspaper. Take advantage of this often-overlooked method of communicating to parents and the rest of the community.
Take your message to PTA meetings. The parents who attend these meetings typically are heavily networked into the school system and can help to convey your information to other parents.
Go electronic. These days, most school districts and contractors have Websites. Why not post some information about the safety of school buses? Also, how about adding a tagline to your e-mail signature? “School buses — the safest vehicles on the road” sums it up pretty well, don’t you think?
For years, the school bus has been known as the “loser cruiser” to many youngsters, especially high school students. Although we’ll never be able to make it cool to ride a school bus, we should emphasize its relative safety and convenience to parents every chance we get.