Shoring Up Student Safety When Buses Don’t Show Up on Time—Or at All

Campus security starts on the school bus and there are technologies available to improve student safety during pickup and drop-off.

Shoring Up Student Safety When Buses Don’t Show Up on Time—Or at All

Photo: Vasyl, Adobe Stock

Note: The views expressed by guest bloggers and contributors are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Campus Safety.

The school bus is a critical, often overlooked component of school safety protocols. Driver training and evacuation drills—not transportation operations—are considered part of the safety profile of school districts. As districts nationwide grapple with bus driver shortages, maintenance backlogs, and other resourcing difficulties, it’s no longer a given that buses will show up on time—or at all.

At a minimum, when routes aren’t covered, students and families experience limited disruption. But at a maximum, disruptions can cascade into real safety issues.

School administrators are anticipating a heightened national focus on student safety at K-12 campuses this fall. Securing the full campus perimeter means securing the outermost perimeter: the school bus. Now is the time for school transportation departments to get ahead of the knowns of school bus safety: maintenance needs, route design and development, and implementation of intuitive driver tools for the safety of students at pickup, drop-off, and everywhere in between.

Avoid Costly Breakdowns Before They Happen

The first and most critical requirement is to ensure that buses are safe to operate. During an average school year, around 10 billion total student trips are made nationally. Each bus can serve 70 students, transporting them from home to campus, field trips, games, and more. The risks associated with running a full-scale school bus fleet will always be high by virtue of the number of touchpoints in a day.

With so many trips on the line, curbing routing difficulties starts with ensuring a district’s buses are fully operational. This is the ground floor of preparedness– districts must create a process to shore up safe operations. Paperless pre- and post-trip inspection systems are a first line of defense to streamline processes, maintain compliance, and ensure students aren’t stranded at pickup for avoidable mechanical issues.

Once districts capture the status of each unit, leaders and managers should consider how they can avoid future maintenance issues. This includes preventative maintenance scheduling and identifying needed repairs before they lead to catastrophic breakdowns. Equipping fleets with technology capable of predicting maintenance issues at a granular level can minimize disruption and mitigate the risk of mid-route malfunctions.

Optimize How You Adjust for On-the-Fly Changes

From the moment bus engines are fired up in the morning, the expectation is operations will change regularly and in unexpected ways. The volume and variance of changes are what introduce risk to school bus operations. As a consequence, the nature of the game is adaptability. A single bus taken out of use, without a backup, can have reverberations on routing for the rest of a fleet.

K-12 campuses need seamless communication with drivers to inform the quickest, most efficient plans the day-of — all variables considered.

The core safety requirement of routing is ensuring drivers know where they are going and when to arrive. Whereas veteran drivers are familiar with the subtleties of their routes, substitute drivers may feel they need extra support with pickup or drop-off in rural areas, dense metropolitan zones, or unpredictable road conditions.

School buses outfitted with state-of-the-art GPS technology maximize bus utilization, make live locations clear to coordinators at dispatch, and help avoid road hazards as they arise. High-tech cabs outfitted with smart fleet management platforms consolidate all the context drivers need on a single tablet. This eases transitions for out-of-commission buses and makes complex—or brand-new—routes intuitive.

Maximize Peace of Mind Across the Board

There are numerous cases of students deserted at the wrong stop, sometimes miles from home. Some campuses are reducing anxiety, enhancing safety, and increasing operational awareness by integrating new, all-in-one technologies geared to address these scenarios.

Using student RFID swipe technology, for example, buses can transmit automated alerts to guardians’ phones indicating that a child has boarded or exited in designated pickup and drop-off zones. Fleets can then log the date, time, and location of each entrance and exit on each bus, ensuring everyone who belongs on board has made it to their seat and, ultimately, to their destination.

Even with minimal disruption to daily scheduling, parents and guardians want to know what is happening with their students. Parents want real-time school bus information in the event of an emergency. They want transportation schedules and reliable drop-off and pick-up details. Technologies that provide certainty for guardians increase confidence in school transportation programs and significantly reduce calls from concerned parents throughout the day.

Control What You Can and Anticipate the Rest

The yellow school bus can be the initial point of threat to student safety, but it’s also the first line of defense. Vehicle safety, route safety, and effective communications are core to reducing risk and helping districts navigate day-to-day variables with ease. Administrators need to structure a holistic view of their perimeter threats on and off the core campus by factoring in the bus and implementing technology to eliminate known risks.

Tim Ammon is Vice President and GM of Passenger Services at Zonar.

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2 responses to “Shoring Up Student Safety When Buses Don’t Show Up on Time—Or at All”

  1. Joe says:

    For many years the safety of school children has been of paramount importance, as it should be. But there are other issues which must be considered. Pedestrian accidents and deaths have been steadily increasing. I do not think this happens because drivers are out hunting down pedestrians. I believe it is rather an unintended consequence of several things. For example, “cross at the green and not in-between” and “look left and right” before beginning to cross are no longer taught. Rather pedestrians are taught they have the “right of way.” This does not mean they can enter into traffic without being responsible for their own safety. Right of way means nothing when crossing in front of a distracted driver, or a car with a mechanical failure.
    It is probable that a bus moving on a roadway on which the hundreds of cars traveling on a given stretch have to stop and start every few blocks, in both directions, is not safe for traffic or the bus. Regardless of laws which require cars to stop for the bus. And this does not take into considerations that drivers of those cars are under stress to get where they are going. School children have unlimited time to get to their destinations dependent on schedules easily (well, maybe not easily, but certainly possible) adjusted. Busses now stopping on main streets could be re-routed to side streets to prevent the millions of stops and starts that currently happen daily. And don’t forget the waste of fuel in those millions of stops and starts each day of the school year with associated air pollution and cost. In my community speed reduction lights flash long before and after the actual times needed for walkers and busses each day, annoying drivers, and creating loss of time and value each day. Crossing guards will stop traffic causing backups for blocks in order to empty a parking lot full of student cars that, unlike the driving public, have no deadlines to make. This causes frustration in the driving public, the waste of time and fuel, and perhaps in-excusable efforts to illegally move through the artificial traffic jams around schools causing, guess what, increased auto and pedestrian accidents. Students need safety. The traveling public needs efficient movement. The two needs do not have to conflict. That should be the goal for traffic management experts.

  2. Gregory Bickel (MPO Guardian Officer) says:

    HMM, after all this time and technology. Why have we not implemented student armbands to be worn for school bus children as they board the school buses, they are checked in. As they exit the bus, the band is scanned, and you have updated information to date time to shown place and time of stop and when and where student is located or even getting off at right bus stop. Each bus driver has a computer linked with each route and students for each route. Technolgy is present to have this simple thing handled, but it all boils down to money. I thought the Florida lottery money was supposed to be helping out with funding for education. Where is all this money really going from the lottery. A simple program and driver/ student education will save time, money and lives. With student data adaptable and transferrable or just deleted. Student safety is paramount and so, is. driver safety and parents’ knowledge of actually where their child is and is safe. Les get it done soon. also, maybe bus cameras on the outside which activate up stop placard being extending and flashing lights for drivers to stop. Tapes can be reviewed after driver notes violation and tickets issued once driver committing violation is confirmed. Let think smart and get the distracted, uncaring, road rage drivers off the road.

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