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Special Report


Student transporters offer strategies to combat driver distractions WRITTEN BY JULIE METEA


D


rivers need constant, keen attention to safely operate school buses. Any distraction inside or outside of the vehicle could lead to costly mistakes of damage, injury and, rarely, death. It is no surprise, then, that distracted


driving is increasingly the cause of crashes, as indicated by police investigations, and corporate and government-sponsored studies. Te National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that nearly 20 percent of all vehicle crashes are attributed to something that distracted the drivers momentarily before the crashes occurred.


While cell phones and smart devices are increasingly a distraction


across the board, school bus drivers have unique risks associated with student misconduct while the vehicle is in motion. Driver fatigue is also on the radar as a distraction, since fatigue-related accidents topped the 2017-2018 National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements. United Educators, which


provides insurance and risk management services to schools, reports that bus accidents account for 16 percent of the company’s total number of public school claims, costing more than $7 million in losses. A notable claim of $2 million involved a school bus driver who reached for a dropped object before running into a parked asphalt truck, killing a construction worker and a student, as well as injuring 32 other students. “When school buses are


involved in crashes, it’s heightened by national news, even though they are the safest vehicles on the road,” said Bill Raab, director of risk control at Glatfelter Public Practice, an insurance provider based


22 School Transportation News • JULY 2018


in York, Pennsylvania. “We have to have critical conversations about all driving distractions, and commit to saying no when temptations arise.” Actually, school buses have the best safety record of any vehicle


on the road. But with so many distractions swirling around school transportation professionals, that’s not stopping districts and op- erators from implementing a number of strategies to enhance bus driver performance.


ADDRESSING DISTRACTED DRIVING IN TRAINING PROGRAMS


States require school transportation operators to provide training


programs with a varying number of hours. In California, school bus drivers must train a minimum of 40 hours in the classroom and on the road every five years, in order to validate their driving certificate. Additionally, drivers train 10 hours each year on other school bus safety issues, including distractions. Te Fremont Unified School


District near Oakland, California, discusses distracted driving in each monthly school transportation safety meeting. Instructors inform drivers on regulations, defensive driving techniques and last-minute responses, as a way to keep the information top of mind. “It’s hard to remove the dis- tractions completely,” said Jerri Levy, a training instructor for the school district. “We deal with an increased number of vehicles on the road, and drivers weaving in and out of traffic causing danger- ous situations. Students act unruly on the school bus. And all of this takes away from our drivers’ focus on the ever-changing activities outside of the bus.” Te Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. (BCSC) in Colum- bus, Indiana, not only provides


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