Perhaps no one sees their community as much or as well as school bus drivers. In their route, school bus drivers go into all neighborhoods and down many side streets that mass transit buses and other vehicles don’t use and the police may circle only now and again. It’s always intrigued me what school bus drivers see and witness on their tours through our cities and villages each day. And, given my innate curiosity, it makes me wonder how their observations and experiences might contribute to some greater good in our communities and in our schools.
Let’s explore some of those sights and sounds and consider their value to our communities and the role that school bus drivers can and do play in helping those communities and the children who live there. This discussion starts with the understanding that our drivers’ first and primary responsibility is to safely transport America’s children. Any of these ideas and discussion points must be viewed through that lens.
A perennial issue for school bus safety and our drivers is the sizable number of motorists who daily pass school buses that have their red lights and stop arms engaged. Regardless the interventions we try, it seems that the problem continues unabated across the nation. It is an urban issue as well as a rural and suburban issue.
Our drivers are our first line of intelligence gathering on this issue. They see where the most incidents occur and can provide that information to management and to law enforcement. Such information can help the police to intervene where possible to write tickets or to enhance enforcement and compliance. It can also help school transportation leaders to identify places where routes could be adjusted to avoid certain traffic areas or to avoid the need for students to cross a road to board their bus.
And be sure to advise your drivers that you KNOW that sometimes nothing is done with the information they turn over. But let them know that it’s important to the safety of our children and that you are keeping a running log of the passes that are reported and sharing that data with the school board and the media and the police administration.
Potholes that can make your teeth rattle. Intersections in need of repair. Turning lanes not marked or in poor condition. Streetlights not lit on side streets. Traffic signals not working.
Any school bus driver knows that they are likely to see any of these problems on any given road on any given morning of afternoon run. And any of these can present safety or equipment maintenance problems for our drivers.
Our kids need for us to be watchful over them. And our drivers, as we have all said, are the first school employees to see them each morning and the last to see them in the afternoon.
Encouraging them to report such instances allows managers to communicate with municipal authorities to get them resolved immediately or on a repair list for resolution at some point. Here again, these kinds of activities remind our drivers of their importance and their roles as part of our safety team.
And again, keep a log of the reports you have made and the resolution of those reports. Share the results with the drivers so they can see the results of their vigilance. And share your efforts with the school board or your local school administration. Maybe at some point in the school year, put out a statement of gratitude to the municipality regarding their responsiveness to your reports.
Many of our school children live in neighborhoods where there are higher than average crime rates or run-down housing stock or commercial establishments that increase the risk level for them. The locations are often known to us when we set up our routing and stop locations. But over time, those locations change or evolve, and need our renewed attention.
What a great opportunity to get immediate input from your own eyes and ears: your drivers! What are they seeing in terms of changes in neighborhoods or at bus stops. Bus stops are often a cause for concern and a venue for bullying or violence. Our drivers see these locations every day, twice a day, and can be a great source of information. They can also be a resource to you in your routing and scheduling activities and updates.
Who was that person hanging around the swings at the neighborhood park? Why are those three young guys standing in a circle on that corner every afternoon? Who is that person coming out of a student’s home every afternoon just as the bus pulls up to unload? Did that student just get into a car instead of going into her home after she left the school bus?
This is another important area where our drivers are a source of intelligence for us on activities or circumstances that present danger or risk to our children. Encourage your drivers to be vigilant and to share with you anything that they see that is troubling or concerning or just out of the ordinary. Let them know that no observation is too small or insignificant. If they share it, assure them that you will do a review and take appropriate action. But it all starts with them reporting and sharing.
Our kids need for us to be watchful over them. And our drivers, as we have all said, are the first school employees to see them each morning and the last to see them in the afternoon. Our drivers are trained in many skills and can (and should) be trained or prepared to watch for signs of distress in a child.
I recall an episode in a rural area of New York. A driver noticed that a young male student frequently soiled himself as he left the bus and walked toward his home in the afternoon. The driver noted it happened particularly when a truck was parked in front of the house but not in the absence of the truck. And he began to wonder. So, he reported it to his supervisor who brought it to the attention of the school counselling team. To summarize, it turned out that the truck belonged to a family friend who was abusing the boy. That driver’s instincts and observation skills saved that child of more suffering and humiliation.
Those kinds of situations are playing out across the country and drivers are stepping up For the Children. Recall our January 2023 article about catching drivers in the act of doing something special? Happens every day because, at their core, our drivers really do care about the children!
Wrapping It Up
These were some of the ideas that came to my mind as I considered all the things that drivers see. And it’s not simply an exercise in “see something; say something.” It’s also a matter of reminding drivers that they have a value to us and that they are an important cog in the community and in the lives or our children. Accordingly, drivers should be encouraged to act in some of these areas. Helping them see that you appreciate their value is one more element to driver retention and a positive work environment. Remember that they need the tools and the opportunities to learn more so that they can be helpful to children in distress.
It’s up to us whether things like this happen or not. It’s always up to us. A friend and former association president loved to say that leadership in school transportation is about understanding that a child is counting on YOU. Truth.
Peter Mannella (email@example.com) is chair of the NAPT Public Policy Committee.