More than 25 million students take the school bus every day, according to the American School Bus Council. It is the job of schools and transportation departments to ensure all of those students arrive to school and home safely, every single time.
We already know that school buses are the safer option for students. Students are about 70 times more likely to get to school safely when taking a bus instead of traveling by car, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
While school districts have some version of bus safety protocols (whether it’s a robust process or not), today’s transportation teams have even more help with the advancement of technology.
Kajeet created the Technology Checklist for a Safer School Bus to provide a one-page, printable list to guide school districts across the nation on how to continue to driving 25 million students to their destination safely.
Invest in Communication Tools
Just because the bus drivers are the only school district officials on the school bus does not mean they are alone in their goal of getting students to school safely.
It is critical to have communication tools available to keep transportation departments, from dispatch to mechanics to bus drivers, in constant communication.
Push-to-Talk (PTT) radios over LTE provide instant communication.
Purposefully-built radios remove the distractions that cell phones provide, such as texting and apps. And due to the small amount of voice data transmitted between radios, the LTE coverage is even better than cell phone coverage. If your school district is particularly large or rural, this ensures greater coverage, and therefore, the ability to communicate with bus drivers throughout their entire route.
Additionally, for extracurricular activities that have students traveling on the bus outside of the district (some even ride the bus for five or six hours each way!), it’s even more important to know Dispatch has a way to get in contact with the bus driver.
Through the PTT Dispatch Console, supervisors can record and send mass broadcasts to up to 750 radio users simultaneously. If the transportation office needs all bus drivers to be aware of an announcement, this is the fastest way to get that message across, with the least amount of effort required.
Supervisors can also speak directly to a radio user in a 1:1 situation. If a bus is running behind schedule, the Supervisor can radio that specific bus driver to find out the reason for the delay.
And while no one wants an emergency situation, it’s important to have a plan in place before a situation arises. The Kajeet PTT radios have a “Hot Mic” SOS button, which the bus driver can press or the Supervisor can remotely activate in order to turn the radio into a live feed. Dispatch can then hear what is happening on the school bus and address the situation as needed.
Create a Plan for Emergency School Bus Situations
The first step of implementing a communication tool leads to our next step: creating a plan for emergency school bus situations.
As mentioned above, the bus driver is responsible for transporting students, but there is an entire team of transportation personnel dedicated to help.
If an angry parent jumps on the bus and begins yelling at the bus driver, or there’s a medical emergency with a student sitting in the back of the bus—what happens next?
A silent alarm button on the bus’s dashboard provides the solution.
When a bus driver presses this discrete button, Dispatch is instantly alerted with an email and/or SMS text notification. The transportation office will know there is an emergency situation and action needs to be taken. The Supervisor can turn the PTT radio on with “hot mic” and listen through the radio. Based on the situation, the Supervisor can send the right person to handle the situation to the school bus, while the bus driver can remained focus on the emergency in front of them.
Set Up Technology that Keeps Students Safe
While there are emergency situations that require a plan based on the incident, there are also the daily safety needs that can be addressed with technology.
Remote engine diagnostics provided through telematics is equally important to ensure every school bus across your fleet is operating at maximum efficiency.
From a small fleet of two school buses to a large fleet of 1,000, there is bound to be an issue or engine light on at least one bus. Telematics provides real-time engine diagnostics including vehicle health reports.
Dispatchers can receive notifications of fault severities from “No Actionable Faults” up to “Service Now.” These notifications combined with a Fault Code Action Plan (FCAP) that comes with every report provides Dispatch the opportunity to determine if the engine issue is critical and should be addressed immediately, or if it is a smaller issue that can be addressed at the end of the day.
The ability to determine the condition of each engine will also ensure students arrive to their destination safely, without the fear of breaking down on the side of the road and having to wait for a replacement bus to pick them up.
Improve Student Behavior with School Bus Wi-Fi
Part of students experiencing a safe bus ride is ensuring their behavior is positively impacting the ride for their peers. Providing students with educationally-filtered Wi-Fi provides them an outlet to focus on schoolwork, instead of causing disruptions to other students or the bus drivers.
Raytown School District in Missouri piloted a Kajeet SmartBus™ program in their school district and saw a 45 percent decrease in overall bus disciplinary referrals.
“I was not surprised to see that when kids are busy and have something to work on, they’ll stay out of trouble. I was shocked at the anecdotal and data reports of how much better it was, though. I wasn’t expecting those kinds of numbers.”
Kevin Easley, Director of Transportation, Raytown School District
And when students focus on their devices and sit quietly on the school bus, drivers are able to focus on driving, not disciplining students and driving.
But providing filtered Wi-Fi to students is not the only thing you can do with Wi-Fi.
If your school buses already have cameras installed, you can have your camera data automatically download to your servers when the bus reaches the bus yard. When necessary, transportation teams can then easily review recorded video without having to send an employee out to collect hard drives or SD cards from every single bus.
In the event of an incident, the Supervisor can look at the specific time of the event and review the camera data remotely.
Student safety is important, and it starts as they step onto the bus every single morning. Ensure your buses have the technology to aid in the creation of a safe environment for students and bus drivers.