A recent STN survey indicates that any federal or state bans on cell phone voice or text conversations should make special provisions for school bus drivers who might need to rely on mobile communication devices to perform their basic job duties.
Nearly six of 10 respondents said two-way radio coverage is not available in their area, lending credibility to the belief of many pupil transporters, including NAPT, NASDPTS and NSTA, that any cell phone laws do not outlaw equipment necessary on school buses to allow bus drivers to communicate with dispatch. In fact, 84 percent responded that they actually require school bus drivers to use cell phones while transporting students because of limited or no two-way radio coverage.
Federal guidance announced on Jan. 26 that lays the ground work for a notice of proposed rulemaking includes verbiage that might allow for two-way radio exceptions. In response to the FMCSA guidance, the STN survey was sent in late January to 1,743 magazine subscribers, of which 222 responded. School Transportation News asked several questions regarding school district or bus company policy on the types of conversations bus drivers are allowed to engage in while operating student routes or trips, the training school bus drivers are required to receive and if schools use two-way radios.
Fifty-three percent responded to a multiple-choice question on the specific policies in place that school bus drivers may only use cell phones in the case of an emergency. Another 31 percent said absolutely no cell phone conversations were allowed while behind the wheel compared to 22.5 percent who said such conversations were allowed. Meanwhile, 7.7 percent said phone conversations were permissible when students are not on board, and 2.3 percent said such conversations were only allowed when using a Bluetooth or other hands-free device.
In regard to texting, 72 percent said absolutely none is allowed compared to 19 percent who said there were no policies banning text conversations. Additionally, 14 percent said texting was only allowed for emergencies, and 6 percent said bus drivers could only send texts when no students are on board.
When it comes to school bus driver training, respondents said the subject of texting was addressed once per year, usually during the pre-service. Slightly more than 16 percent said texting was a training subject twice a year, and slightly more than 7 percent said it was addressed three times a year. A quarter of the respondents gave a variety of open-ended answers on training, ranging from four to five times per year, as needed or for new hires only.