A petition to the White House was posted online prior to Christmas asking Congress to fund a proposed federal study to examine how the "work situation" of school bus drivers can distract them from the task at hand — namely, the safe operation of the vehicle.
At least 25,000 signatures are needed by Jan. 15, 2012.
The Transportation Research Board first proposed the study last year. It is estimated to cost at least $900,000 and would be similar to one conducted for truck drivers last year by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute to help the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) identify safety-critical events, which would be analyzed to characterize the associated driving environment, driver behaviors and student passenger conduct.
TRB cites past STN contributor Jim Ellis, currently the transportation director at Moravia (N.Y.) Central School District and former PTSI director of research and instructional design, who wrote in 2009 that driver distraction related to on-board student behavior problems is a common cause of school bus crashes and fatalities.
If approved by Congress, the research team would work with the student transportation industry to equip school buses with data collection systems to capture video, sound and vehicle kinematic data. Data collected would involve: situations with and without a school bus monitor; situations with and without student passenger behavior recording technology; rural versus urban environments; driving situations versus loading and unloading zones; OSHA noise levels; and road conditions (road type, weather, etc.)Based upon any identified causes of unsafe distractions, the study could lead to potential regulatory action by FMCSA, FHWA or NHTSA.