Why Half of School Transportation Officials Want Improved Driver Training and Monitoring

In a September 2023 survey by School Bus Fleet, school transportation officials reported the number one safety measure needed for school buses is “enhanced driver training and monitoring” (50% of respondents).

What is driving this need?

In the US, 484,000 yellow school buses and almost 100,000 contractor-owned buses logged 3.2 billion miles ferrying students on routes in 2022-23. Fundamentally, school district transportation departments are chartered with the safe and efficient transportation of these students on these routes as well as to and from school-related activities.

Per this safety imperative, some administrators and officials laudably focus on school bus safety records as they relate to students. The California Department of Education, for example, points out that students are eight times safer riding on a bus versus in a car, based on student fatality statistics. When evaluating the efficacy of current safety initiatives, however, it is critical to analyze the problem more broadly. Specifically, it is important for decision-makers to look at the:

  • Overall fatality and injury rates for school bus accidents, including impacts to people not riding on school buses.
  • Economic impact of avoidable incidents, including added costs for repairs, vehicle replacement, vehicle and driver downtime, replacement driver recruitment and training, and insurance.
  • Need to protect drivers from erroneously being deemed at-fault when there are mitigating circumstances.
  • Safety needs for the multitude of white fleet vehicles carrying out district maintenance and operations activities.

A Look at the Statistics

According to a National Safety Council analysis of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data, there were 11 fatalities on school buses in 2021, including six drivers and five passengers. In the same year, however, there were a total of 108 fatalities in school bus crashes. Included in this amount were 97 deaths among occupants of other vehicles, pedestrians, and bicyclists. In other words, 90% of the people who died in school bus incidents were not riding on school buses.

Deaths in school bus-related crashes

In addition to fatalities, the data showed 9,700 injuries in 2021 school bus crashes, affecting 1,400 bus drivers, and 4,000 occupants of other vehicles.

More recent data provides evidence that the vast majority of school fleets are experiencing worrisome driving incidents. Specifically, the same 2023 School Bus Fleet survey cited above found that 68% of transportation professionals reported seeing significant incidents or accidents involving school fleets.

Beyond human costs, school bus accidents add economic pain and hinder transportation departments from operating efficiently and effectively. Consider the following:

  • In 2023, 97% reported a continued spike in prices for school bus parts such as tires, batteries, brakes, fluids, electronics, and engine components. Clearly, accident repair costs put increasing pressure on already strained budgets.
  • The number of bus drivers working in K–12 schools declined 15% from 2019 to 2023. With the driver shortage, driver downtime due to accidents is untenable.
  • Similar to buses, repair costs for trucks and vans have continued to climb. This directly affects white fleet operational costs.
  • Schools are already paying more for insurance

The cumulative impact of these factors makes it essential for transportation professionals to complete a sober assessment of current safety programs and performance to meet fiduciary and budgetary responsibilities. It is likely that the 50% of survey respondents who chose driver training and monitoring made a similar calculation, reaching the conclusion that more is needed to elevate safety.

How Technology Can Help

36% of surveyed transportation professionals highlighted “cameras to monitor student behavior” as a desired safety measure. The straightforward value of continuously recording students and drivers is the ability to empirically identify or clarify misconduct or other incidents on buses that can present safety hazards. With these systems, drivers may have the option mark a point in time while an incident is occurring, to streamline future review by supervisors and school officials.

The fact that only slightly more than one-third chose onboard cameras may be a reflection of the higher level of adoption to date, as opposed to a lower perceived value for this solution. Many of the respondents may already have deployed onboard cameras.

To a lesser extent, cameras are also used to record stop-arm violations, a commonly cited safety threat. These recordings can be utilized for:

  • Increasing transparency around the frequency of stop-arm violations.
  • Documenting evidence of fault following a serious event, such as a collision involving a pedestrian.
  • Forwarding to law enforcement officials for issuing citations.

These camera solutions certainly offer the potential for incrementally improving safety. However, they do not necessarily tackle the need to elevate driver training and monitoring. For this goal, AI-enabled dash cameras provide the optimal solution.

Advanced AI-enabled dash cams automatically detect and record adverse driving behaviors and incidents, providing high resolution clips of road-facing and optional driver-facing video. Automated clips include before and after footage to provide helpful context for reviewers. A host of supported video triggers includes distracted driving, speeding, harsh braking, and more. Videos are then uploaded to the cloud and curated for expedited review and follow up with drivers. Systems also offer optional audio coaching, signaling drivers to take immediate corrective action when needed. These systems are purpose-built to efficiently and effectively improve driver training and monitoring.

Beyond training and monitoring capabilities, dash cams can also help protect drivers and school districts by documenting mitigating circumstances that otherwise could not have been proven.

For more information on tackling driver training and monitoring with AI-enabled dash cams, read the latest CalAmp case study on Rockwood School District  

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