In the early morning hours of every school day, youngsters board a yellow and black bus and head to an exciting day at school. We rely and trust that knowledgeable and responsible school bus drivers will deliver and retrieve our children each day, with safety as their number one priority. According to the American School Bus Council, each school bus equals 36 cars, which means that children have a better chance at a safer ride to and from school rather than riding in a standard vehicle. Even the safest, most law abiding drivers are at risk for being involved in an accident with a distracted driver. Taking your children out of the backseat and on to a school bus should be a safer alternative, but recently in some states, school bus riders are at risk of being involved in an accident caused by distracted driving. The distracted driver? The trusted school bus driver.
Laws Against Texting and Driving
According to the U.S. Government Website for Distracted Driving, currently 41 states ban text messaging while driving and for good reason. No one, regardless of what they think or say, is good at texting and driving. Texting and driving, as separate actions, require visual, manual, and cognitive attention. Choosing to combine the two actions, at the same time, is a potentially lethal decision. While many drivers may argue that they have texted while driving without an incident to date, we all know it only takes one small incident to change life forever. Some drivers are self-proclaimed multi-taskers, boasting at their ability to drive the kids to school, while drinking piping hot coffee, texting co-workers, and keeping the car within the speed limit.
Studies show that multi-tasking doesn’t really exist. When you try to do more than one thing at a time, your brain struggles to prioritize the task at hand. For example, when you are driving, your visual attention is on the road, your manual attention is on the wheel, and your cognitive attention is in tune to driving. Once you hear the beep of a text notification, your brain suddenly “switches gears”. Your eyes may remain on the road, your hands may be on the wheel, but you are suddenly thinking about the text message and who may have sent it. The alert nags at you until you reach into your purse and check your phone, causing you to take all attention from driving.
Considering all the potential dangers of texting and driving, why are the school bus drivers in particular states allowed to text while transporting dozens of innocent children? Against the Golden Rule?
In September, a student, riding the school bus, took a video of the bus driver texting while driving. At one point, the driver was using her knee to control the wheel and struggled to stay within her lane. While the driver was suspended, the video footage has left many parents feeling uneasy, rethinking their morning transportation plan. While those states that allow it ban texting while driving, school bus drivers are allowed to text if the messages are work related. Even if school bus drivers pledge to use their cell phone for work related information, who will monitor to make sure the term “work related” isn’t be used loosely?
More importantly, how would a cell phone interfere with a bus driver’s performance? A school bus driver’s occupation can be rewarding and stressful. Safely transporting children is the main objective of the job, which doesn’t (and shouldn’t) allow for error. In addition to being a safe driver, according to United States Department of Labor, bus drivers are expected to have good customer service skills, be in good physical, mental and emotional health, have patience, good hand/eye coordination, and excellent vision and hearing. If a driver becomes immersed in “work related” text messages, he/she cannot perform the following important tasks:
Watch traffic and people carefully to ensure the safety of children getting on and off the bus
Take care of the needs of children with disabilities
Keep order and safety on the school bus
Understand and enforce the school system’s rules regarding student conduct
Report disciplinary problems to the school district or parents
Although texting laws have a few exceptions, it is safer and smarter to adhere to the “no texting and driving” law rather than trying to read between the lines or slip through a loophole. Texting and driving can injure, kill, and change your life in a matter of seconds. The next time you walk your child to the bus stop, will you trust her life in the hands of a texting bus driver or will you drive her to school, risking the busy roads filled with distracted drivers?