When a North Carolina student noticed that her school bus driver wasn’t wearing a seat belt, she knew whom to call.
The reason? There is a sticker inside the bus explaining that drivers must wear their seat belts and refrain from talking on cell phones while driving. Below those state statutes is the note “Report violations to (919) 807-3580.”
Derek Graham, section chief of transportation services for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, told SBF that the idea of this pilot program is “to remind drivers to comply with the law and that students are watching them.”
Currently, there are four school districts participating in the program, which began about a year and a half ago. Calls to the hotline go to a voicemail, and Graham and his staff retrieve the messages periodically and send reports of violations to the districts.
In the aforementioned case, in January, the middle school student called the hotline and left a message that her driver wasn’t buckled up. The pupil noted the bus number but not the name of the school or district.
The morning after retrieving the call, Graham sent the student a text message thanking her and asking what school the bus served. That afternoon, the student texted back the name of the school. About a minute later, she sent Graham another text: “And she’s not wearing it again, NOW.”
Graham sent a report to the district’s transportation director, who uses a Blackberry and got the e-mail right away. The district has GPS on all of its buses and so was able to quickly identify the location of the bus in question. A supervisor was sent to confirm that the driver was indeed not wearing her seat belt, and the driver was disciplined.
Graham said that the hotline has not been inundated with calls since the pilot program began — about 50 last school year and 10 this year.
“The small number of calls indicates to me that our bus drivers are, for the most part, doing what they are supposed to,” he said. “But there are always some people — in all professions — that might try to take the easy way out sometimes.”
Graham emphasizes how, in the recent case, the technology used by the student, the state and the district helped to correct the situation.
“And we hope the word will spread,” he added, “so other drivers might think twice if they are tempted.”