Cell phones on school buses Emergency communications: No reason not to use technology to link drivers and schools.

November 07, 1997

CELLULAR PHONES for school buses are a good idea that's overdue. As long as their use is limited to real emergencies and important business communications, wireless telephones can pay off in the improved transportation of school children and better safety.

Cell phones are becoming cheaper by the month. Service contracts are highly competitive. What was prohibitive in cost just a few years ago is now affordable and available.

These phones should provide peace of mind for parents, as well as for the bus drivers.

As anyone whose child has ridden a school bus can attest, various problems can require prompt communication between driver and the school office and pupil homes: Interminable traffic jams that distort pick-up schedules, running out of gas, sickness aboard the bus, inability to enter snow-covered streets, getting stuck in a ditch and auto accidents.

The usual communication alternatives are not appealing, especially in more rural areas. Drivers must find a pay phone (and have a quarter) or find a householder willing to make the call. If the bus is disabled, it can mean a student or driver walking a fair distance to get help, or flagging down a helpful motorist.

Carroll County plans to install cellular phones in all of its school buses this year, at a cost of $50,000. The allocation must be approved by the school board and the county commissioners, who support the idea.

Carroll school officials say they have ways to limit cell phone calls to emergencies, and to exclude the idle chatter that often clogs radio networks. Drivers must be especially aware of these reasonable limits on phone calls (which cost money even in local zones).

Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Harford counties do not require these portable phones in all their school buses, although some contractors have chosen to provide two-way radios or cell phones. Howard County now requires radio or phone in all new or replacement buses.

The cost is considerable, some argue. True bus emergencies are rare and usually attract quick help anyway, they say.

But this seems a modest sum of money well spent on affordable, useful technology in an age when most public school pupils are transported by school bus.

Pub Date: 11/07/97

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