S.B.S.W.: Share the Story of Us

It’s a wonderful time of the year!
So goes the song. 

This wonderful time of the year happens to be the October perennial known as “School Bus Safety Week.” This is OUR week! What can we celebrate during this week? What can you do to commemorate it in your operation? Why does it matter?

So, let’s start with why it matters. School transportation is a very special profession to all of us. We respect our work; we value our work; we appreciate our work. We know that our work allows children to access their educations, their futures. But the rest of the nation does not necessarily know what we know or share what we share. Our immediate past has been marked by parent frustration with late or absent buses due to the demands of the COVID pandemic and exacerbated by the throes of a dire driver shortage. That all comes on top of a long history of hesitance by school leadership to invest more heavily in non-instructional costs like transportation. And we face a near-term future where inflation will increase our operating costs and budget constraints will challenge us in managing our operations. Add to this that emerging technologies in school buses will change almost everything we do and the challenges get steeper and more significant.

This means we need to do all we can to bolster our arguments on our value and worth to the education enterprise and to America’s children. School Bus Safety Week presents one such opportunity. 

To the point of the substance of our story and what a GREAT story we can tell. School buses transport more than 25 million children every day. Compare this to the nation’s airlines who transport that many people every year (and I always take pains to note that we go pick up our riders while the airlines make us go to them!) That is the underlying story: we safely transport 25 million of America’s children to their education each day of the school year.

The rest of the story is just as important to tell. The fact that millions of rural children can get to their schools because of the school bus. The fact that millions of students with disabling conditions or special needs can get to their schools because of the school bus. The fact that hundreds of thousands of homeless and displaced students can get to their schools because of the school bus. So many other benefits to children BECAUSE OF THE SCHOOL BUS.

The other story to tell relates to the steps and efforts this industry makes to ensure that the ride to school on a yellow school bus is the safest (data-based statement) transportation mode on record. School buses are manufactured to exacting federal safety standards and inspected daily to ensure that they are road-worthy and ‘kid-worthy.’ School bus drivers are licensed in accordance with strict federal and state training and licensing requirements and their skills are regularly tested and refreshed. Drivers are also subjected to medical and physical tests, drug/alcohol testing and other regimens to ensure they are qualified to drive our nation’s children. 

Taking the safety formula further, we know that our school buses travel on routes that are analyzed for not only efficiency but also safety in terms of traffic and hazards for the children. We focus on taking measures to train all members of the safety team on the skills and knowledge they need to ensure our kids are as safe as possible. Our goal is always the elimination of crashes and injuries and fatalities. Our industry is driven by the concept of ‘zero defects’ because we know that any variation from ‘zero’ means a child has been put in harm’s way and that is unacceptable.

That is our story. And every time I think about it, I am overwhelmed with pride and with appreciation for the women and men who make that story a non-fiction story…who make it real. It isn’t a miracle…in fact, one clever slogan works for me every time: “safety is no accident.” 

As we enter the month of October 2022 and every October from here on, let’s all take a moment in our year to share that story. At religious holidays and historical holidays, it is traditional to tell the story. The Christmas story or the Passover story or the July 4th story of the Declaration of Independence and other stories are so rich for us to tell and to pass along to the next generation. 

We all need to share the awesome story of school bus safety with that kind of fervor and love. This is when we get a chance to show how much we “Love the Bus” to the public.

You can share the story with parents through your school’s communication system or with your school board at a public meeting. You can celebrate your drivers and staff for their contribution to safety and let the public see you recognize and celebrate. You can share data with the public about your safety record (ever see those signs outside companies boasting of their safety record?). You can share information on the training and systems improvements you have implemented to attain that record. You can educate your school’s PTA about your work for the children and gain their support for your mission and for your drivers. And you can hold your head up high while doing so.

I really love telling the story about school bus safety in October and December and March and August and every month. Please join me in celebrating the amazing yellow school bus and the most amazing human beings who make them run. We do it all for our children. There is no more noble reason for our work.

Celebrate School Bus Safety Week!! 

NOTE: As a public service, NHTSA has published information to support School Bus Safety Week and to remind motorists to stop for our school buses to keep our children safe. It might be useful for your local efforts! Find it online at www.nhtsa.gov/road-safety/school-bus-safety.

Peter Mannella (pfman5@gmail.com) is chair of the NAPT Public Policy Committee.