Child safety is always an important topic. At this time of year when our nation’s kids are again back in the classroom, keeping them safe while away from home – especially on the commute to/from school – takes on special significance. October 21-25 is National School Bus Safety Week. This week is dedicated to increasing driver awareness about the importance of stopping when school bus stop arms and signs are deployed, slowing-down in school zones, and putting away cell phones any time we’re behind the wheel.

Thinking back to my days in elementary school and riding those big yellow buses, I recall that our driver had her own approach for managing on-board communications and safety; she had a whistle that she blew whenever anyone spoke a word. It was a frightening, but effective, way to keep us in line – and it helped make for a safer ride home. Thankfully today, technology solutions can do a lot more to help improve school bus safety than that trusty old whistle!

Maintaining a Watchful Eye

Take for example, the Mobile County Public School System in Alabama. In the summer of 2012, the district deployed Actsoft® from AT&T, a GPS-tracking solution combined with AT&T 4G/LTE mobile broadband connectivity. This solution allows real-time school bus mapping and geo-fencing, to help district leaders know where each bus is, and to make sure each is following the correct course.

With this solution, an alert is generated if a bus deviates from the authorized route. Mobile broadband connectivity allows the district’s transportation department to automatically collect, analyze and act upon data gathered from the 730 buses in the fleet. And the county’s six route supervisors can access the Actsoft dashboard from their office computers or from their mobile devices, to view the location of all buses in real time. “[The solution] provides accountability,” advises Pat Mitchell, the district’s transportation director. “We like knowing where our children, drivers, and buses are at all times.”

Always in Touch

In the summer of 2013, the district augmented its school bus fleet tracking technology by adding AT&T Enhanced Push-to-Talk service.   Rather than having to communicate via individual cell phone calls to each driver, every bus was equipped with a smartphone and AT&T Enhanced Push-to-Talk service, an instantaneous one-button communications solution. With this solution, the dispatcher is able to communicate with drivers and first responders in near real-time, making it much easier to divert buses around traffic or accidents.

Immediate Results

Implementing school bus technology solutions has made a noticeable impact in Mobile County – not only for the district, but for the community as well. Since the district began using Actsoft® from AT&T, citizen reports of unusual school bus activity have dropped dramatically. “Having this tool on the bus decreases the number of complaints we get in terms of a bus exceeding the speed limit or going somewhere it shouldn’t be,” Mitchell said. Spending less time looking into complaints means route supervisors have more time to fulfill their core responsibilities.

Great school bus drivers and innovative technology solutions can make a winning combination, helping ensure that each child’s location and safety are closely monitored as they travel between points A and B.

So here’s to hoping that kids today never have to fear the whistle like we did – and that parents can take greater assurance in knowing the ride home is nice and safe!