School Bus Driver Shortage Could Have Safety Implications
School Bus Driver Shortage Could Have Safety Implications

When any organization or industry has a labor shortage, they may have to take extraordinary measures to fill a role. When that role is driving children, what are the implications for child safety?

This is not a hypothetical situation in Texas, where the transportation director for the Round Rock Independent School District faced the beginning of the school year needing to fill more than 20 bus driver positions.

“When my day starts off, the first thing I do — me and my supervisors — we look at who we can hire out there. Who’s applied for jobs,” Scott Copeland told KXAN-TV. “We hire people in as quick as we can.”

And candidates aren’t easy to find, Copeland says—at a recent job fair, “we put banners out and we only had three people show up.”

In Dallas, officials were considering hiring teachers to drive buses, to help solve their need for 400 drivers.

Although the Austin Independent School District, when contacted by KVUE-TV, reported no shortage, a troublesome trend of a lack of drivers is emerging nationwide. The bus driver shortage in Kansas City’s Park Hill School District was so severe that officials were forced to cut and consolidate some routes. Shortages have caused problems from Minnesota to Alabama to Washington state. A recent survey in a trade magazine found that 90 percent of respondents nationwide had some degree of school bus driver shortage, with 23 percent reporting a “severe” problem.

Why is it so hard to attract drivers to a school district? One often-cited reason is the record low unemployment in the U.S.; bus driver jobs just aren’t in as much demand. Copeland names a few other possible factors affecting his Round Rock district:

  • Competitive pay and other incentives between districts
  • Drivers moving to new jobs
  • Other drivers retiring
  • Lack of bus driver testing facilities in the area.

The pay for bus drivers in the Round Rock Independent School District is $16.03 per hour, according to KXAN. In Austin, it’s $15.42 per hour, and in Lake Travis the rate is $18.27 per hour.

Other factors experts say are limiting the potential pool for drivers include the hours—a driver’s schedule demands a few hours of work in the morning, then a few hours in the afternoon. Obtaining a commercial driver’s license (CDL) is also seen by many as a major obstacle, with a waiting period of up to six months to acquire one.

The safety of their children continues to be the paramount concern for most parents, and the confusion around a driver shortage doesn’t help matters any.

In one Tennessee district, a mother nearly called 9-1-1 when she hadn’t heard from her children 20 minutes after their scheduled drop-off time.

“I had no idea where my children were,” Brenda Norrod told WCYB-TV in Washington County, Tenn. “You call the school, no body answers the phone. You call the bus garage, no body answers the phone. Where are my kids and who knows where my kids are at?”

The implications of being responsible for a busload of children may keep some candidates from applying, admits Copeland. “I think it’s hard to get people to come in and drive a school bus because they’re afraid of the students,” he said. “They’re afraid they don’t know how to manage students. But when they get here we train them, we tell them what to do.”

Every day, parents trust their children’s safety to the bus drivers who take them to school in the morning and bring them home at the end of the day. For the most part, those drivers are trained and qualified. But accidents do happen—and when a child’s safety is at stake, responsible parents need to know their legal rights. If the need comes up, contact the experienced auto accident lawyers at the Evans Law Firm for a free consultation.