How much is an insurance policy worth to you, your school, or your operation? Think of the well-spent budget dollars used to insure your fleet. It brings the peace of mind that comes with knowing that your losses are covered. But how do you “insure” students? What can you do to create peace of mind when it comes protecting our most precious cargo? That’s where vehicle telematics can come into play.

Solutions like GPS tracking, real-time engine diagnostics, on-board tablets, and student ridership are not simply tools to help you be more efficient and accountable. They significantly increase safety at a time when parents and administrators are demanding it. Parents see the navigation technology in their vehicles, the ETAs on their public transit apps, the real-time alerts about weather delays, and wonder why can’t the school bus have the same thing? The answer, of course, is that they can.

You have the difficult job of researching what solution is going to provide the highest level of safety for your students. This is why many consider it equivalent to an insurance policy for your students. Of course, to pick the right solution you need to be looking for the right things. That’s why I wanted to arm you with the right questions to ask to help determine the best fit for your operation:

  • How can these solutions help improve on-time performance? One of the best ways to increase student safety is to ensure that students spend as little time as possible outside waiting for the bus. You need to know if your vehicles are departing and arriving on time, and be able to easily make changes so your data can reflect what’s happening on the road. Your routing software should be flexible and powerful enough to give you great planned data, but the ability to measure against it is invaluable. Done right, this all translates into better service for your students, saved dollars for the district, and knowing that students aren’t standing around in rough weather.
  • How can these solutions help improve customer service? Telematics can help improve communication with the public by allowing the department to be transparent. Through web or mobile app services, telematic solutions can provide parents with updates about when to expect the bus, or even when and where their student scanned on the vehicle. Student tracking solutions included in telematic devices also help to ensure that drivers know who is on the bus, what their scheduled stop is, and — crucially — whether every student has gotten off the bus by the end of the run. You can also keep district staff abreast of daily changes and early/late arrivals to buildings, improving communication across the district.
  • How do these products help me in the event of an accident? Hopefully they’re infrequent, but accidents do happen.
    • With student ridership, you should easily be able to see who’s on the bus now, what parents you need to alert, and have a quick way to send custom push notifications via a mobile app.
    • With tablets, a driver should be able to give law enforcement an updated list of who’s on the bus now, including pertinent student data.
    • When GPS hardware can show accident reconstruction by tracking G-force events (rather than simply timed intervals), the solution can be used to defend your driver and potentially avoid expensive lawsuits.
  • How does the system help with driver training? Many telematics systems include functionality that helps motivate drivers to learn on the job. For example, the system may be able to not only record when a driver is speeding or using harsh braking, but can also play an audio alert to tell the driver that they’re not using best practices. They can also integrate inspection systems to help ensure that drivers are completing thorough pre- and post-trip inspections.
  • Does the system help the maintenance crew work proactively? Telematics solutions that can read engine codes, or that include a vehicle inspection function, should alert the maintenance staff to problems in real time. This not only leads to a more efficient operation, but keeps buses safer. It can even help with on-time performance! If the lead mechanic knows which buses’ batteries are dead before any driver turns a key in the morning, they can arrange for jumps or alternative vehicles without disrupting departure times.
  • What’s the best way to roll this solution out? Ask the vendor this. If they have experience, they should be able to give you some tips for communicating the change with administrators, employees, and community. Your communications team should also have some great insights. The last thing you want is for people to feel blindsided, so surprise them with proactive communication. If parents, students, drivers, and staff are all prepared for the technology, they can make use of the safety features right out of the gate.
    • Tyler’s tip: Have your parents tell you what they want by giving them a survey. Questions such as, “How important is it for you to know exactly when your child stepped off the bus, even when you’re not home?” can give you an excellent platform for gauging the public’s wants and needs.

Next time you’re looking at solutions like GPS, on-board tablets, and student ridership, understand that it’s not just about bottom-line price. Although these products can come with huge return on investment, improve efficiency, and more, it may still be hard to choose this new technology. Rather, consider the cost of a student’s safety – when viewed this way, the relative value of telematics can be priceless.

Content contributions by Tyler Technologies’ Kim Rentner, Adam Jensen, Matthew Cohn, and Sara McGrath.

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