This chapter reviews transportation of the Rockwall Independent School District (RISD) in the following sections:
- A. Organization and Staffing
- B. Routing and Scheduling
- C. Safety
- D. Fleet Maintenance and Management
Each year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), approximately 440,000 public school buses travel more than 4 billion miles and daily transport 24 million children to and from schools and school-related activities. School buses make an estimated 10 billion student trips each year.
In a study from 1998 through 1999, NHTSA compared the number of fatalities of children ages five through 18 during normal school transportation hours and found that school buses are 87 times safer than passenger cars, light trucks and vans. This safety record is achieved through bus design and construction, the bus operating condition, the planning of the bus route, the location of the loading zones and the school bus driver. While the construction and safety equipment of school buses is critical, a safe driver is also essential in preventing accidents.
Over the years, school bus driver selection and training activities have improved significantly. In the 1970's, the NHTSA issued standards for school bus driver training. In the early 1990's, the Federal Highway Administration required that all school bus drivers possess a commercial drivers license (CDL). To attain this license, bus drivers must pass knowledge and skills tests, be subject to random drug and alcohol testing, pass a biennial physical examination and pass a criminal background check.
Driving the school bus is not the only task required of school bus drivers. Before a bus leaves for its route, the driver must conduct a physical check of various vehicle systems, such as brakes, tires, lights and steering, to ensure that all systems meet requirements for safe and proper operation. Drivers must also discipline children on the bus and handle any medical or other emergencies that may arise during the trip to and from school or school-related activity. Many drivers must also attend to unique requirements of students with special needs, which frequently require additional training.
RISD evaluates all bus drivers behind-the-wheel at least twice each year to verify their skills and effectiveness in managing student discipline. During the evaluation, the Transportation Department's administrative assistant:
- monitors the driver's pre-trip and post-trip inspections, including: lights, tires, emergency doors, windows and hatches, gauges and post-trip walk-through to check for students that might still be on the bus;
- evaluates the driver's appearance, attitude, courtesy and proper use of the radio;
- monitors the cleanliness of the bus;
- evaluates the driver's methods of student discipline and management, including speaking to the students in a friendly manner, addressing students with respect, following the district student discipline management program and general student behavior;
- evaluates the driver's operation of the bus, including observing posted speeds, observing school zones, proper hand position on the steering wheel, complete stops at stop signs, handling of the bus in traffic, proper turns, proper use of mirrors and driving smoothly during acceleration and braking;
- monitors the driver's procedures for loading and unloading students, including setting the air brake at every stop, following the approved bus route, arriving at stops in a timely manner, properly using flashers, ensuring students are seated before continuing, ensuring students remain seated until the bus stops and signaling students on the left side of the street before they cross in front of the bus.
The administrative assistant performs additional evaluations if a driver is involved in an accident and anytime the director of Transportation deems it in the best interest of the district.
The RISD Transportation Department monitors and evaluates bus drivers behind-the-wheel at least twice a year.
The RISD Transportation Department established an Accident Review Committee to review every accident involving an RISD school bus. The committee includes a bus driver, policeman, mechanic, driver trainer, director of Transportation, executive director of Operations and the driver involved in the accident.
The Accident Review Committee reviews the details and cause of the accident, who was at fault, how the driver might have avoided or prevented the accident, the driver's accident history, the seriousness of injuries to bus passengers and any maintenance issues with the bus. If the committee finds the driver is at fault, the committee can recommend action against the driver, including additional training, probation and termination. For example, regarding an accident involving a bus backing into a mailbox, the committee determined that the driver did not follow proper backing procedures and did not use the bus mirrors correctly, so the committee required the driver to undergo four hours of additional training specifically pertaining to backing procedures and the proper use of mirrors.
The Accident Review Committee's role has expanded under the new director to include work-related injuries. For example, after a transportation employee tripped over the wheelchair ramp at the entrance of the south transportation center, the committee examined the facility. The committee determined that the ramp was not properly painted with yellow safety lines and requested the ramp be painted. The Accident Review Committee will begin transportation facility inspections to identify other safety problems and recommend actions before they create problems for employees.
RISD uses an Accident Review Committee to review all accidents involving school buses and recommend appropriate actions.
In order to prevent drivers from inadvertently leaving students on the school bus, RISD instituted the "Empty Sign" Program. At the end of a bus route, a driver must walk to the back of the bus and attach a special card to the inside rear door window, which is visible from outside the bus, indicating that the bus is empty. While walking to the rear of the bus to place the sign, the driver inspects around and under the seats for any student who might still be on the bus.
After all buses have returned from their routes, a supervisor checks the back of all buses to see if all drivers attached their signs. If not, the supervisor immediately checks the bus for students and takes disciplinary action against the driver. During the next pre-trip inspection, the driver removes the sign and keeps it at the front of the bus until the end of his or her route.
The RISD Transportation Department effectively uses an "Empty Sign" program to prevent drivers from inadvertently leaving students on the bus.