PA Systems Help School Bus Drivers Communicate Safely

Whether directing students to cross the street safely in front of the bus or providing instructions during an emergency, these systems are vital to helping drivers communicate effectively.

Public address (PA) systems can be a crucial part of the safe operation of school buses. A vital communication tool, they provide a way for bus drivers to safely share with students important information such as arrival and departure times, restore order to a bus with unruly children and communicate during emergency situations.

To enable safe and easy communication in a variety of situations, PA systems can be equipped to work both on the inside and outside of buses. While the internal system feature is used to address the students on board, the external feature, a speaker on the outside of the bus referred to as a PA horn, enables drivers to direct students to cross safely in front of the bus, and share information with teachers, aides, parents and first responders during emergency situations.

The systems are also used to guide other driver duties, such as directing maintenance staff outside the bus as they are checking lights or adjusting mirrors.

The external PA feature is required in a handful of states, including Delaware, North Carolina, Idaho and Oregon.

Particularly, the Delaware Department of Education’s administrative code, Regulation 1104, SB Standards, has required the use of external as well as internal PA systems for many years, according to Ron Love, state supervisor of school transportation at the Delaware Department of Education. 

“We use it to cross students with an audible clearance signal from the driver or the aide,” he explains. Students are instructed to wait to cross the street during unloading and loading until they hear the clearance signal from the PA system.

The location of the speakers is also very important, Love adds. In Delaware, the two interior speakers must be placed above the window line, and not within four feet of the driver’s seat back in its rearmost upright position. Additionally, according to the state’s administrative code, the outside speaker must be located, depending on whether the bus is Type A or B, on the left front side of the bus forward of the front wheels; Type C,  in the engine compartment forward of the radiator or on the inside of the front bumper on the left side; or Type D, under the floor on the left side of the bus between the front bumper and the left front wheel.<p>States such as Delaware have requirements for the location of external PA speakers. For Type A and B buses, that’s on the left front side of the bus, forward of the front wheels. Pictured: REI’s external PA horn.</p>

After the National Congress on School Transportation specified the location of internal PA systems in its 2010 National School Transportation Specifications and Procedures, Love explains, the Delaware Department of Education discussed with three vehicle manufacturers — Blue Bird, IC Bus and Thomas Built Buses — the best place to locate the speaker for optimal sound before it revised its latest standards to include its requirement details. 

“The external speaker location wasn’t clear in the previous requirements,” Love says.

A noise suppression feature that is controlled by a switch is another state requirement. Drivers need to turn off all radios and noisy equipment or use a noise suppression switch at railroad crossings. It must be labeled and alternately colored, have an on/off function and deactivate body equipment that produces noise, including heaters, air conditioners, fans and defrosters.

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