WASHINGTON – The school bus industry has a message for bus drivers: Put down your cell phones.
The American School Bus Council plans to issue guidelines Tuesday calling for a ban on drivers using cell phones when the bus is moving or when students are getting on or off.
The group's co-director, Pete Japikse, who also is the head of school transportation in Ohio, said the council will urge bus companies and school districts to enact the ban.
He said the research is clear that cell phones cause drivers to lose focus. "We don't want those distractions to be part of the school bus driver's environment," he said.
Japikse said the group also will urge state lawmakers to take action. There are at least a dozen states with laws or regulations prohibiting school bus drivers from talking on the phone.
The council includes public and private transportation providers, school bus manufacturers and state officials responsible for pupil transportation.
National PTA President Anna Weselak applauded the council's decision.
"There has been a lot of attention to anyone operating a motorized vehicle and talking on the cell phone," Weselak said. "Parents want their children to be safe at home and school and on their way to and from school."
The council's recommendation follows one from the National Transportation Safety Board, which said all bus drivers should be banned from using cell phones while driving.
The federal panel made that recommendation after blaming a driver's chat on a cell phone for a 2004 crash in Alexandria, Va. that injured 11 students.
About 25 million students in the United States ride the school bus each day, according to the American School Bus Council.
In 2005, 134 people were killed in accidents involving school buses, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Ten were drivers or passengers on the bus, while 30 were pedestrians. The majority of those killed were in other vehicles.