As transportation managers, our most important responsibility is making sure all children get delivered to and from school safe and on time.
In our line of work, one of the worst things we can hear is, “We have a lost child.” If that does happen, the first thing I do is have the bus searched.
Since 2001, the only incident I’ve had of a sleeping student left on a school bus was by a seasoned 25-year driver. Ironically, this driver also acted as a mid-day dispatcher who did radio reminders to check for sleeping children.
I have spent many waking hours thinking about how to prevent this type of incident from happening again. Managers must provide leadership in this area by establishing clear procedures for drivers to follow, enforcing consequences for not following those procedures, and providing reminders and incentives for drivers to check their buses for sleepers.
Here are 10 recommendations for managers to consider.
1. School bus drivers must have a predetermined checking spot, agreed on with management, to make sure that no children are left behind. This place should be reflected on the return home route sheet. It should be the nearest safe place to pull over to check the bus.
2. Do not let drivers come back to base for their initial check. It is much better to find a sleeper as close to home as possible.
3. In the morning, all post-trip bus checks should be done at school. This is a good place to find backpacks, lunches, projects, etc.
4. Although the initial child checks should be done before returning to base, it’s certainly OK to double-check at base.
Place dummies on board
5. To make sure drivers are checking their buses, consider placing a dummy on board. I use homemade “sleeper” dummies. Joey is made from old clothes from my nephew Joe, and Will is made of clothes we picked up at Goodwill. It’s pretty easy to make these sleeper dummies. Here’s how:
• Sew socks to the end of pant legs and a shirt to the pant waistband.
• Fabricate a head from an old shirt and sew on a cap.
• Fill the clothes with a filling.
Now you have a great sleeper. I place Joey or Will in the bus of an unsuspecting driver, who is supposed to find it and return it to me for a reward. This may sound corny, but it works. It’s all about promoting awareness, preventing complacency and adding some additional incentive to the routine of walking to the back of the bus.
Consequences, second chances
6. I’ve come to the conclusion that a school bus driver and/or bus attendant must be terminated as soon as possible if a sleeping child is left alone on a bus. Transportation employees must understand: Leave a child on a bus, leave your job. No excuses or mitigation. If they leave a kid behind, they have to pay for it with their job.
7. On the other hand, I have hired drivers who have lost a job elsewhere for the same reason. Here’s my logic: If they are remorseful, admit that they made a mistake and take responsibility for it, I believe that they will never leave a child unattended on a school bus again. So far, my logic has been sound.
Reminders and recognition
8. Transportation managers should talk about this subject at safety meetings. They should compliment drivers for doing their jobs, making sure they know that everyone has a stake in this game.
9. At operations that have GPS, managers can check to make sure that drivers are pulling over their buses at the places designated for the sleeper checks.
Catch people doing things right.
Related: Never forget the danger of leaving a child behind