Bus driver and insurance agent David Broussard thinks cellular phones are the answer for rural bus drivers. And since 1993, he's been on a crusade to bring them to all Louisiana school buses.
Mr. Broussard, of New Iberia, La., began his lobbying in behalf of the state's 750,000 rural students after he came across a disabled bus on a lonely stretch of U.S. Route 90. The bus had broken down late at night while returning to Baton Rouge from a track meet. The driver did not want to leave the students alone on the bus, but he had no way to call for help.
Mr. Broussard drove the students home in his own school bus. The experience left Mr. Broussard, who is an area manger for Equitable Life Casualty, wondering about the hundreds of other bus drivers who were driving without any means of calling for help.
"Just imagine if your child became stranded because their bus had a wreck or broke down in a storm," he said. "With no way to call for help, all a driver can do is try to get the kids to safety, but if a child is injured or sick and needs medical attention, what then? Cellphones are the answer."
Mr. Broussard began lobbying local districts and pestering state politicians to put phones on every school bus. Many school boards were concerned about phone abuse and air-time charges; to remedy their objections, he worked out an arrangement with BellSouth Mobility, now Cingular Wireless, to donate cellphones along with free minutes to any district that wanted them.
In exchange, districts were asked to place a BellSouth sticker on buses. The phones are preprogrammed to call only five emergency numbers and can be used only while the bus is safely parked.
To date, Mr. Broussard has persuaded a third of the state's districts to accept his idea; cellphones are now on nearly 2,000 Louisiana school buses.
"I'd like to see it go national, actually," he said. "It's a free and easy way to ensure the safety of our children. If we don't try and make a difference, I don't know who will."
— Marianne Hurst
Vol. 20, Issue 43, Page 3