Image: Canva/CM Regent Insurance

Image: Canva/CM Regent Insurance

In many areas of the country, the beginning of this school year has been bumpier than in the past. A national bus driver shortage has left some school districts and bus fleet companies unable to find enough people to fill their roster.

With such stressors, it can be tempting to overlook some of the basics of safety. But risk management is more important now than ever before—it is better to not have bus transportation than to have buses that are poorly maintained and driven by unsafe operators. The following are some of the most important areas on which school bus fleets should concentrate their risk management efforts.

Employment Checks and Ongoing Training for Bus Drivers

It is absolutely essential that you perform a motor vehicle record (MVR) check on all drivers before hiring them. Not only is a check important at the beginning of their employment, but also it should be repeated annually to ensure they have remained safe drivers.

Of course, how you use the MVR information is up to you. It’s best to establish a written policy that defines how MVRs are evaluated, as well as the consequences of falling into marginal or poor review categories. An individual’s driving record is typically considered marginal or poor if one or more of the following exists within the last three years:

  • Three or more accidents (regardless of fault).
  • One or more major offenses.
  • Any combination of four or more accidents and serious traffic offenses.

For school bus drivers, you should run a criminal background check in addition to an MVR check. However, the safety steps don’t stop once all the pre-hire checks are completed. You should provide ongoing driver training that includes distracted driving, defensive driving, and the necessary actions to avoid road hazards. You should also establish a written cellphone policy that prohibits drivers from using their phone while driving.

Selection and Maintenance of School Buses

Not every school bus is created equal. Develop a rigorous checklist you adhere to whenever you add a new vehicle to your fleet.

During a time when school bus companies are under pressure to provide enough vehicles for student transportation, it may be tempting to run just a cursory safety check before putting buses into commission. However, it’s important to take the extra time with every vehicle, enlisting the services of a mechanical expert to make sure the buses are ready for the road. While buses are in service, they should be maintained on a regular schedule by qualified mechanics.

Each vehicle should have emergency equipment on board that is appropriate for the route, season, and terrain. You may also consider using telematics devices, cameras, and other fleet management resources to help keep drivers and passengers safe, while also protecting your business.

Tips for School Bus Driver Safety

No matter the time of year or the road conditions, there are certain tips all of your drivers should follow:

  1. Perform a visual inspection of your bus every morning before driving it. Make sure the tires are properly inflated; test the emergency door, buzzer, and lights; test the brakes and parking brake; and look behind the bus for any obstructions.
  2. Take extra time during bad weather. Don’t skimp on cleaning snow off every part of the bus, and make sure all mirrors are clear. Ensure all drivers know about their vehicle’s safety features so they can respond appropriately if the bus slips on wet or icy pavement. Remind your drivers they should have their headlights on during fog, smoke, and rain.
  3. Start the day with plenty of rest. There is nothing more dangerous than a tired, distracted school bus driver. Drivers should get plenty of sleep, eat properly, and avoid alcohol and medications that could impair their driving.
  4. Enforce discipline on the bus. The beginning of the year is the best time for drivers to establish firm rules on their bus. Students of all ages are much more likely to behave when they know what to expect. And they shouldn’t just set rules—they should also enforce them, so children learn quickly there are consequences to misbehaving. Disruptive children on a school bus are a major safety hazard, so it’s best to curb poor behavior as quickly as possible.

Take the extra time to stress safety in your fleet, and it will pay off big in the long run.

Sharon Orr leads the risk control department for CM Regent Insurance Company. This column was written and edited according to School Bus Fleet editorial standards and style. Opinions expressed may not reflect that of SBF.