“Right now, I’ve got one thing to do. …”
That message, continued at the end of this article, comes from management consultant Dr. Cal LeMon in an Operation Lifesaver video called “Decide Smart, Arrive Safe.” The video instructs school bus drivers on how to safely cross railroad tracks. But LeMon’s message also applies more generally to the job of driving a school bus.
Certainly, driving a school bus involves doing more than “one thing” — there’s the pre-trip inspection, checking mirrors, managing student behavior, driving defensively, loading and unloading passengers, the post-trip inspection, etc. But all of those tasks are part of the bigger task at hand: safely transporting students to and from school. And focusing on the task at hand is LeMon’s point.
Distraction is a factor in many vehicle crashes, sometimes with fatal results. Consider these statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA):
• 3,477 people were killed by distracted driving in 2015.
• 391,000 people were injured by distracted driving in 2015.
• An estimated 660,000 people use electronic devices while driving during the day.
The issue of distracted driving is so frequently associated with electronic devices — primarily cell phones — that it’s easy to forget that there are other distractions that can be just as dangerous while driving. Here’s the definition that NHTSA provides:
“Distracted driving is any activity that diverts attention from driving, including talking or texting on your phone, eating and drinking, talking to people in your vehicle, fiddling with the stereo, entertainment, or navigation system — anything that takes your attention away from the task of safe driving.”
Furthermore, distraction doesn’t always involve a physical object or person who is present in the vehicle. Thinking about issues at home, bills to pay, errands to run, or what you’re going to do after your route can also cause inattention, which can lead to making mistakes on the job.
"This is an extreme case, but it shows how important it is for school bus drivers to not become preoccupied with whatever else is going on in their lives while the safety of students depends on them."
In 2013, we shared a news story about how the mayor of a small town in Kentucky resigned from his second job as a school bus driver after accidentally leaving a sleeping child on his bus.
John Tompkins of McKee told the Lexington Herald-Leader that he may have been distracted by thinking about his mayoral duties and that “when children are involved and you’ve got that much on your mind, then there’s nothing else you can do” but resign.
More recently, a similar situation occurred on a school bus in Whittier, California — with a tragic outcome. In September 2015, Paul Lee, a 19-year-old who had autism and was nonverbal, died after being left stranded on his school bus on a hot day.
The tragedy led legislators to pass the “Paul Lee School Bus Safety Law,” which requires all school buses in California to be equipped with child-check reminder systems by the start of the 2018-19 school year.
In February of this year, Armando Ramirez, the driver of the bus on which Lee died, was sentenced to two years in prison. In April, multiple media outlets reported a shocking revelation from the video deposition of Ramirez: The driver admitted that after leaving his bus — apparently unaware that Lee was still on board — he went to meet a co-worker at his house to have an affair. Clearly, Ramirez was not entirely focused on his duties that morning.
This is an extreme case, but it shows how important it is for school bus drivers to not become preoccupied with whatever else is going on in their lives while the safety of students depends on them.
“Right now, I’ve got one thing to do,” LeMon says in the Operation Lifesaver video. “It is protecting the lives of kids who … have a future because I remain focused.”