A new policy to address the use of mobile devices while operating school vehicles is being discussed by the Policy Committee of the Sauk Prairie School Board.
The July 22 Policy Committee meeting was held in the Bridges Elementary School library because the conference rooms typically used by the committee were being used for school registration meetings.
The proposed policy, which would be a newly established one for the district, seeks to forbid drivers from using their mobile devices such as cell phones with at least one hand while operating a school vehicle.
“Distracted or inattentive driving is when a driver engages in any activity that might distract them from the primary task of driving — and increases their risk of crashing,” The proposed policy reads. “While many motorists may perceive driving as a routine activity, attentive driving is critical as the traffic environment changes constantly and drivers must be prepared to react. Attentive driving is especially important when operating a school district vehicle and/or transporting students… Drivers of school district vehicles are prohibited from reading/composing/sending text messages and emails, accessing the Internet, or using a hand-held wireless device while the vehicle is in motion or a part of traffic—including stopped in traffic or at a traffic light. Accessing the internet for navigation or other purposes must occur while the vehicle is in park.”
The name of the proposed policy was shortened from “Use of electronic wireless communication devices by district employees who operate board-owned or operated vehicles” shortened to “distracted driving”
School Board Member Dennis Virta said the bus company used by the school district, Lamers, has its own policy regarding the use of mobile devices, but the district may be open to imposing a “more restrictive” policy.
Lamers permits hands-free operation of mobile phone, such as using voice commands. Sending and receiving texts and calls is only permitted when vehicle is stopped and not moving.
Virta expressed concern about where devices may be located within a vehicle, the committee agreed it would be better for a device to be located along the dashboard rather than in the driver’s lap. “(Looking down,) the average time for that is 4.5 seconds,” Virta said. “At highway speeds, that’s two football fields.”
Committee Member Chanda Kulow said devices could still be distracting while mounted on the dashboard if notifications such as texts and emails are enabled. “You’re getting notified, so that’s even distracting” Kulow said. “If your notifications are on, they’ll pop up.”
Committee Member Noelle Sapiro said she knows someone who has an auto reply enabled when he’s driving, which could prove useful in preventing distracting notifications. She also mentioned the iPhone’s “do not disturb” feature as a potential solution.
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Virta said Assistant Superintendent Jeff Wright looked to policies Illinois and Minnesota while researching the district’s needs on the issue of mobile devices in vehicles.
Virta said he also looked at the University of Nebraska policy, which he praised, but through researching it learned the process of change on the issue is likely to be incremental. “This is a long process,” Virta said.
School Board Member Jim Isaacson said the State of Minnesota’s laws on cell phone operation while driving mandate completely hands free operation.
Virta said in Wisconsin, he believes the restriction to only hands free operation is only in effect when in work zones.
The policy would affect not only busses, but lawn equipment and other school operated vehicles as well.
Isaacson said depending on conditions, it may make sense to prohibit any noise to be emitted from a device, such as podcasts or music.
Committee Member Chad Harnisch said he could see listening to a podcast — without headphones on — as being similar to listening to the radio while driving, which is not prohibited.
The proposed policy would allow navigation apps and allow voice commands. Entering information into a navigation app must be done while the vehicle is stopped and not in motion. Physical manipulation of the mobile device in any way is prohibited while the vehicle is in motion.
Drivers would be allowed to use their cell phone to contact the appropriate agencies in the case of an emergency.
The committee decided more conversation would be needed before any recommendation of action was made to the Sauk Prairie School Board. “This is still on the table,” Virta said.
Superintendent Cliff Thompson said an informal luncheon has been proposed at the River Arts Center Aug. 20 to welcome new certified staff. Thompson said he hopes to see the luncheon become a tradition for the school district.
You can reach Jake Ekdahl on Twitter @JakeaEkdahl or contact him at 608-697-6353