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Investigating School Bus Driver Distraction

Investigating School Bus Driver Distraction


In 2010, 249 buses were involved in fatal crashes, and approximately 12,000 buses were involved in crashes that resulted in injuries in the U.S. (NHTSA, 2011). Of the 249 fatal crashes reported above, 114 involved school buses, 37 involved cross-country/intercity buses, 83 involved transit buses, and 15 were other or unknown. While these crashes are often attributed to commonly reported causes (e.g., weather, road conditions, and driver error), more research is needed to understand the role of driver distraction created by these vehicles’ passengers. This phenomenon is especially important in the national’s expansive network of pupil transportation. Jim Ellis, Director of Research & Instructional Design at the Pupil Transportation Safety Institute, stated that “driver distraction because of on-board behavior problems is one of the most common causes of school bus accidents and fatalities” (Ellis, 2009). A school bus safety survey conducted by Wiegand, et al. (2010), supported this notion with 93% of the respondents indicating that student passengers’ behavior was distracting to the driver. According to Streff and Spradlin (2000), nearly all research on inattention and distraction has produced the same general conclusion. “Crashes can be avoided to the extent that drivers attend to stimuli that are important for driving (p.4).” Furthermore, crashes can become more prevalent as drivers fail to attend properly to stimuli because of abrupt distractions (Streff and Spradlin, 2000). Therefore, school bus crashes can supposedly be reduced by identifying and minimizing the sources of school bus driver distraction (including student passenger behavior).


The purpose of this study would be to collect naturalistic, real-time data of school bus drivers performing their normal driving tasks during bus routes. This data would be thoroughly analyzed to determine distraction sources experienced by these bus drivers and their association with the occurrence of safety-critical events (i.e., crashes, near-crashes, and crash-relevant conflicts).

Key Words

School bus, Naturalistic, Distraction

Related Work

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) funded earlier research at Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) involving the investigation of distraction sources in heavy vehicle drivers (Olson, et al., 2009).


Distraction while driving is becoming more and more of a problem on the roadway each day. Not much is known about the distraction issues in school bus driving scenarios and therefore should be a priority to investigate immediately.



User Community



The research team would work closely with school transportation providers (both public and private) to instrument numerous school buses with data collection systems. These systems would capture video, sound, and vehicle kinematic data for further analysis. A data reduction strategy similar to the one used in the Naturalistic Truck Study performed by VTTI (Blanco et al., in press), could be employed to identify safety-critical events. These events could then be analyzed to characterize the associated driving environment, driver behaviors (i.e. eyeglances, distractions, etc.), and passenger conduct. The following areas of interest may include, but not limited to: 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; Noise levels; and Road conditions (road type, weather, etc.).


This project would provide a unique examination of the school bus driver’s work situation and would provide insight into the causes of unsafe and potentially injurious distractions. Potential regulatory actions may be identified that enhance and promote safe school bus operations and protect student passengers as well as all highway users.

Committee Point-of-Contact for this Research Needs Statement

William Andrew Schaudt

Virginia Tech Transportation Institute

(540) 231-1591


Blanco, M., Hickman, J.S. Olson, R.L., Bocanegra, J.L., Hanowski, R.J., Nakata, A., Greening, M., Madison, P., Holbrook, G.T., and Bowman, D. (in press). Investigating Critical Incidents, Driver Restart Period, Sleep Quantity, and Crash Countermeasures in Commercial Operations Using Naturalistic Data Collection: Final Report (Contract No. DTFH61-01-C-00049, Task Order # 23). Washington, DC: Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

Ellis, J. (2009). Showing No Restraint for Lap/Shoulder Belt Opponents. School Transportation News. Retrieved on January 10th, 2009 from

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (2011). Traffic Safety Facts 2010. Retrieved on October 15, 2012, from:

Olson, R.L., Hanowski, R.J., Hickman, J.S., & Bocanegra, J. (2009). Driver distraction in commercial vehicle operations, final report. Report No. FMCSA-RRR-09-042. Washington, DC: Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

Streff, F. M., and Spradlin, H. (2000). Driver Distraction, Aggression, and Fatigue: A Synthesis of the Literature and Guidelines for Michigan Planning. University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, Ann Arbor, MI.

Wiegand, D. M., Bowman, D., Daecher, C., Bergoffen, G., and Hanowski, R. J. (2010). Synthesis Report on Special Safety Concerns of School Bus Drivers. Transportation Research Board, Washington, D.C.

Sponsoring Committee:ANB70, Truck and Bus Safety
Date Posted:03/01/2010
Date Modified:05/15/2013
Index Terms:Bus drivers, School bus drivers, Real time information, Traffic safety, Naturalistic studies, Distraction, Distracted drivers,
Cosponsoring Committees: 
Motor Carriers
Safety and Human Factors
Education and Training
Passenger Transportation

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