When School Bus Drivers Text While Driving
Texting and driving, a hazardous practice that has surpassed drunk driving as a prime cause of motor vehicle accidents, can lead to school bus accidents as well. The texting may be done by the bus driver or by another motorist whose inattention can cause a serious bus accident.
Texting and driving may be considered inherently dangerous. It takes a person an average of 5 seconds to text a message. This action takes the driver’s eyes off the road and hands off the wheel. Even trying to text and watch the road at the same time is dangerous as a driver can easily lose control and is not in a position to quickly react to a dangerous situation. Studies from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute report that text messaging creates a risk of crashing that is 23% higher than if not so engaged.
Not all states ban all uses of cell phones. The number of states banning the use of hand-held devices while driving is increasing with 37 states banning any cell phone use by teen drivers. 46 states ban text messaging by all drivers. Curiously, only 20 states ban all cell phone use by school bus drivers and only 3 ban text messaging by them.
If you are in a state that does not ban text messaging for drivers while they are operating the vehicle, this does not excuse a driver who was texting and caused an accident. All motorists must exercise ordinary care when driving. Bus drivers are considered commercial drivers with a high duty of care since they are transporting goods and/or passengers. If the driver was texting while driving and collided with another vehicle, struck a pedestrian or failed to avoid a hazard, then the operator may be liable for breaching the standard of care in operating a school bus.
Further, many school districts or private contractors have policies that ban any use of a cell phone by its bus drivers. In some local jurisdictions, they may ban texting by drivers if state law provides them the authority to do so despite a state law that does not prohibit it.
School districts and private contractors should monitor their drivers to ensure that they are not using their cell phones at all while driving except in emergency situations. On-board cameras can capture a driver’s activities as can questioning students on the bus. There have been numerous media reports of people who have observed school bus drivers talking or texting while driving. Some of the observers were motorists who captured them on the cell phone cameras while other videos were provided by the students themselves.
Also, following a crash, police or investigators can examine the driver’s phone to see what time messages were sent and correlate it to the time of the accident. The driver’s employer should immediately suspend or terminate any driver caught texting and driving or risk liability for injuries in an accident if no sanctions or further training was done.