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School buses transport an estimated 26 million students each day, according to the American School Bus Council. But what that statistic really means is there are thousands of bus drivers responsible for getting those 26 million students to and from school each and every day.
As discussed in the Connected Bus Report, the school bus has vastly changed from the original yellow bus days, mostly due to technology. The one constant aside from “school bus yellow” is the bus driver.
When asked if a school bus driver’s job has become more complicated, a resounding 97 percent of respondents said “yes” in a recent School Transportation News poll.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates there are 687,200 jobs as a school bus driver. Let’s see how the role of a bus driver and school bus transportation is changing as a whole.
Student Safety: The Top Priority
The number one priority of every school bus driver is to safely transport their students. And with 50 to 70 students per bus, it’s a big responsibility.
The National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS) recently released a paper on this important role bus drivers play in the daily lives of students.
Training for school bus drivers began as early as 1920 and the guidelines continually evolve. The NASDPTS paper titled, “America’s Professional School Bus Drivers: Their Importance to Student Safety and Educational Success” reviews the current requirements and best practices for drivers:
- Commercial Driver’s License (CDL): All drivers transporting 16 or more people on a school bus is required to have this license.
- Pre-service Training: Many states require school bus driver applicants receive pre-service training even before they are certified to drive a school bus.
- In-service Training: It is recommended for states to host annual in-service trainings. A School Transportation News article gave the example of driver training on new technology the week before school starts.
- Medical Fitness: Each applicant and driver should be required to pass a physical exam.
- Criminal Background Checks: Existing state requirements for periodic criminal background checks of teachers and other personnel should include bus drivers. For example, a Transportation Manager for an Arizona school district discovered two recent out-of-state hires had lied about their records.
- Driving History Record: Certain driving violations disqualify people from obtaining their CDL.
- Pre- and Post-trip Inspections: It is recommended to specify procedures for pre-trip safety inspections of the school bus, along with checking no student is left on board at the end of the trip.
Whether you’re a school bus driver, or leading the district transportation department, it’s critical to keep these requirements in mind in order to ensure the safest ride possible for students.
More Than a Bus Driver
Now with advanced technology, there are tools to help drivers accomplish the above tasks more efficiently. For instance, telematics can monitor electronics on the bus and alert the fleet manager of any issues. And a camera inside the bus can monitor for unsafe, student behavior, while the outside camera can catch drivers illegally passing the bus.
If you’re interested in learning more about all the different types of technology on the school bus and how they fit together, check out the Kajeet Connected Bus report.
All of this technology is bringing school buses into the 21st-century world, but it means bus drivers do more than just drive the bus.
“Today’s demands on the school bus driver require a combination of up-to-date technology resources and exemplary behavior management training. The importance of both should not be underestimated.”
Linda F. Bluth, Ed.D, Consultant, Maryland State Department of Education
Having more technology on the bus means drivers need to be trained on all the different technology in order for schools to make the most of it. NASDPTS Executive Director Charlie Hood said, “We have started referring to them as school bus operators to recognize the job is more than just navigating”
This technology can lead to a safer ride for students, but it can also create additional difficulties.
Retaining School Bus Drivers
A 2015 School Bus Fleet survey revealed 94 percent of bus contractors reported driver shortages, with 21 percent saying it was “severe.” And the reports of bus driver shortages continue.
There are ways to help combat the ongoing shortage. The most frequent suggestion is to increase compensation. Aide from that, it can also help to provide better, standardized training to bus drivers. If bus drivers are trained on the new technology, they will feel more comfortable knowing how to use it.
School Transportation News quoted Bluth who said, “Technology’s demands on the school bus driver require a combination of up-to-date technology resources and exemplary behavior management training.”
And providing that training is up to school districts and their transportation departments.
Another suggestion to help retain school bus drivers is by providing filtered Wi-Fi on the bus. Raytown School District in Missouri, a Kajeet SmartBus™ customer, received very positive feedback from their drivers.
The drivers were happy to discover there’s no extra work required of them, and the students are occupied, and therefore quieter.
“We’re constantly looking for drivers, and drivers talk to each other. If Raytown can get the reputation of supporting drivers and having equipment that supports them, we can attract good drivers and retain more of them.”
Kevin Easley, Director of Transportation, Raytown School District
Today’s school bus is changing with the advancement of technology, and the role of school bus drivers are changing with it. It is critical to help your drivers understand the role technology can play in helping get students to and from school safely.