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Why Johnny’s Bus Driver Can’t Use the Phone

Looking at this page of state-by-state laws on texting and various forms of phoning while driving, compiled by the Governors Highway Safety Association, I was intrigued to note a column reserved for the drivers of school buses, and that a number of states (16) have a law prohibiting them from any form of phone use — even when that state does not actually ban the use of a hand-held device. Only one state at the moment actually prohibits school bus drivers from texting while driving, an example of how quickly the technology and practice has arisen.

But the school bus driver distinction is an interesting one to me; are we saying that is not OK for the drivers of vehicles carrying our children to talk on the phone and drive, and if so, why? But if this is not OK, then why is it OK for the drivers of every other vehicle around that bus to be talking on the phone, and why is it OK for parents with their kids in the car to talk while on the phone? I think this ties in to a certain feeling we have about risk: We worry about being in someone else’s hands (even a school bus, statistically safer than private transportation), but maintain a feeling of what’s been called “the illusion of control” when we are the perceived masters of our own fate.

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This entry was posted on Monday, August 3rd, 2009 at 1:22 pm and is filed under Drivers, Traffic safety, Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

3 Responses to “Why Johnny’s Bus Driver Can’t Use the Phone”

  1. David Veatch Says:

    I can’t help but think it ties into the territorial sense we have when in our own vehicles, in spite of the fact that we’re still in a public space. I was reminded of this phenomenon watching an old episode of The Office when one of the characters said “My car, my rules” when admonished for littering out her car window. It’s funny b/c it’s true.

    It’s easier to legislate school buses b/c they aren’t considered private property, while a personal vehicle is, even when on public roads.

    In the end, it’s illogical to ban texting by school bus drivers, while allowing the same for any other driver. We’re all out there together, after all.

  2. Michiel Says:

    I think the safety issue should be more more important in this case than private vs public space. (Cars are indeed driving in public space anyway, so I don’t understand this discussing from a European point of view.) Why accepting severly constraining legislation addressing terrorist attacks, where by far fewer casualties occur than in traffic!?

  3. Rich in CO Says:

    Having been Jonny’s bus driver I know that some of the rules for bus drivers are about setting good examples rather than pure rational safety benefit. For example, in Colorado, school bus drivers are also prohibited from eating, drinking anything or smoking while operating the bus. I don’t smoke, but I don’t see smoking a cigarette as a highly distracting activity and I doubt that there was ever a fatality in a school bus tied to the driver smoking while driving. I wouldn’t consider using my cell phone to talk (let alone text) while carrying Jonny and his 83 schoolmates, but I have been known to talk on the phone (and to eat and drink, gasp!) while drving my own car. (Possibly even with my own kids aboard).

    If you, as a texting driver, collide with a BlueBird, you will be much more likely to be hurt than Johnny. If Johnny’s bus driver collides with a car the damage will be mostly to the car and its occupants, but if he collides with something really solid then Johnny might get hurt. Preventing Johnny’s driver from texting might be about setting a good example and protecting the folks outside the bus.

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Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.

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