Some years ago, a Wall Street firm that provided investment advice did a memorable television advertising campaign featuring people leaning over seats in restaurants and airplanes to listen in when company advisers dispensed recommendations to a client.
The tag line was something to the effect of, “When we talk, people listen.” That’s what came to mind as I watched Christopher Hart, vice chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), deliver a keynote speech at the 2012 NAPT Summit in Memphis, Tenn., in October.
Over the years, NTSB has become the gold standard for safety recommendations that should be taken to heart, and the agency’s vice chairman is among its best keepers of the flame.
Hart chose to fly in on Oct. 21, a day early, so he could attend the NAPT awards banquet to learn more about us. What a nice touch from a very busy senior transportation official.
On Oct. 22, he made a tailored audio-visual presentation about the NTSB’s school bus investigations and other activities that addressed the nitty-gritty of our business while more than 500 people listened.
There was much to be learned from his excellent presentation, but two things stood out. First, the NTSB is looking into the role of lap belts in crashes that occurred in Chesterfield, N.J., and Port St. Lucie, Fla., in February and March 2012. We look forward to those findings and recommendations, especially since some states decided to voluntarily install lap belts in their large school buses.
Hart also reiterated an existing NTSB recommendation that involves a hot issue affecting our industry: school districts cutting service by expanding walking distances, and replacing school buses with transit buses.
He emphasized the NTSB’s safety recommendation to states: Use school buses or equivalent when transporting more than 10 passengers to and from school.
The key word here is “equivalent,” because as we know, there is no safety equivalent to a large yellow school bus. A transit bus is not a safety equivalent, nor are walking, bicycling or riding with a parent or other students.
So, states that opt for these alternatives to save money are not following the NTSB’s safety recommendation. This is a powerful point that should be underscored to parents, reporters and elected officials during local budget discussions.
Hart also highlighted some of the agency’s school bus safety recommendations to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that are still awaiting action:
• Passenger protection standards for sidewalls, sidewall components and seat frames.
• Emergency exits that are opened and remain open.
• The use of event data recorders.
Last, Hart emphasized that cell phone distraction is a serious safety problem affecting all modes of transportation, especially texting while driving. In his presentation, he asked rhetorically, “What’s your policy?”
Our delegates gave him a direct answer: Now therefore be it resolved that the National Association for Pupil Transportation believes it is unacceptable for a school bus driver to be texting or otherwise using electronic communications devices while operating a school bus.
This proclamation, which was adopted unanimously by the participants in the NAPT business meeting on Oct. 24, was among a slew of approved resolutions that articulate our commitment to safety and professionalism.
Here’s another: Now therefore be it resolved that the National Association for Pupil Transportation commits itself, its educational programs and the work of its members to:
• increasing the extent to which school transportation managers and supervisors utilize key performance indicators and industry benchmarks in their management efforts;
• offering basic and more advanced educational coursework in areas related to quality and efficiency measurement, assessment and analysis;
• advancing the industry’s data-based decision making and budget management efforts to the general public and to policymakers at the national, state and local levels.
Some might argue that these resolutions are nothing more than flowery affirmations of things we all know and believe. I respectfully disagree.
I believe our unequaled safety performance in transportation results from a repetitive drumbeat about things like safety, bullying prevention, illegal passing, distracted driving and eligibility for transportation. I also believe our safety culture must be reinforced constantly to maintain its efficacy. These resolutions make it clear what is important to NAPT members.
I encourage everyone to visit the “Advocacy” section of our website, www.naptonline.org, to learn about our public policy agenda, particularly the resolutions that re-emphasize our commitment to leading, supporting and developing world-class professionals who provide safe and efficient pupil transportation for our children.
Kudos to all of you, especially the NAPT public policy committee and its chair, Peter Mannella, for being proactive.