PORTLAND, Ore. — State pupil transportation directors convened here to discuss a variety of vital topics, including school bus security and pedestrian fatalities.
The National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS) conference got rolling on Friday with an intriguing presentation: “Why Does an Old-Fashioned Childhood Sound So Radical?”
The speaker, Free-Range Kids founder Lenore Skenazy, argued that the world is much safer than the media lead us to believe. The New York City resident, who gained notoriety after she wrote a column about letting her 9-year-old son find his way home by himself on the subway, advocated teaching our children the skills and responsibility to be more independent. She said that may include allowing them to walk to school or the school bus stop on their own.
The conference’s next presentation provided an interesting contrast: “School Buses and Terrorism Awareness.”
FBI Special Agent Marybeth King discussed why school buses could be an alluring target for extremists. King gave insight into how terrorists work and how they aim to carry out their agendas. An attack on kids — whether at a school or in a school bus — would have a widespread impact on the public, particularly as it is covered by the media.
King stressed the importance of drivers’ pre-trip inspections and of having a secure bus facility. “If you are vulnerable to vandals, you are vulnerable to anything,” she said.
King also cautioned against making school bus route information available online. “If you post it, it takes away maybe the one chance you have of seeing someone following a bus,” she said.
One of the more interactive sessions was a panel discussion on reducing pedestrian fatalities, moderated by California state director John Green. The dialogue centered on two pressing issues: what to do about students being struck by passing motorists, and what to do about students being struck by their own school bus.
Within the arena of passing motorists, one concept that generated much discussion was that of enforcement. North Carolina state director Derek Graham explained that while some call for stiffer penalties for those who illegally pass school buses, his state has seen that stiffer penalties are less likely to be enforced. Florida state director and outgoing NASDPTS president Charlie Hood added that when car seat fines were raised in his state, convictions went down.
Other ideas that were talked about included the use of surveillance cameras to catch passing motorists (and how states' laws can affect that process) and the potential for using public awareness campaigns to make it clear that passing a stopped school bus is dangerous and unacceptable.
Regarding the problem of students being struck by their own bus, discussions covered the importance of proper mirror adjustment (industry consultant Dick Fischer said that he constantly sees crossover mirrors that are not adjusted correctly), the need in some cases for “back-to-basics” training, and having the driver get out of the bus to escort children across the street, as California does.
More coverage of the NASDPTS conference will appear in the January issue of SBF.