ROBERTSON COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) — Robertson County Schools is taking advantage of a new state law aimed at easing a challenge created by the statewide bus driver shortage while also improving students’ safety and giving parents more peace of mind.
This upcoming school year, the district will officially roll out navigation system technology for bus drivers, which used to be banned under a state law passed after the deadly 2016 Chattanooga bus crash, forcing substitute bus drivers who were unfamiliar with the route to use paper route sheets to get directions.
“We tell drivers, ‘You need to be focused on your mirrors, you need to be focused on what’s in front of you and on your surroundings,’ but all this time, we’ve been asking them to read a piece of paper and try to navigate a route and manage students,” said Joshua Hinerman, Robertson County Schools’ director of transportation.
State Sen. Kerry Roberts (R-Springfield) explained the problem to a Senate committee in March.
“There’s a shortage of school bus drivers across the state, and frequently, someone has to fill in as a school bus driver, and so if you don’t know the route, this is what happens: you’ve got a cue sheet, a printed out cue sheet, that you’ve got in your lap; you may have flashlight, a small flashlight in your mouth as you’re trying to fumble through the cue sheet and see what your next turn or stop is while you’re trying to drive a bus,” Roberts said.
Robertson County school officials worked with state legislators to get the law passed, which now allows bus drivers to use navigation systems during their routes.
Robertson County’s GPS systems are fixed inside the bus and have audible, turn-by-turn directions so drivers can easily navigate the route without having to look down at a piece of paper. The district tested out the technology last year and will officially roll out the system this upcoming school year.
The technology includes an app for parents, which the district has made free, to track their children while they’re on the bus. The app, called Here Comes the Bus, can also send parents alerts when the bus enters and exits certain zones.
“Hopefully we’re providing another layer of comfort,” Hinerman said. “Riding the school bus is still by far the safest way to get to and from school, bar none, but to provide this resource for them, we’re excited to do it.”
The technology also allows bus drivers to digitally complete bus inspections and take student attendance. However, the district will wait to launch some of those features.
Robertson County Schools is looking to hire 10 to 13 additional bus drivers and more bus monitors so there can be at least one attendant on each bus. Starting pay for district drivers is $23.50 an hour. To learn more or apply for the job, click here.