School bus driver cell phone violations

School districts ban their bus drivers from using a cell phone. Road Warrior Hilary Zalla found flaws in the system.
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Tampa Bay, Fla. -- School bus drivers in the state of Florida are legally allowed to use their cell phone while driving your kids. Of course, it's against the law for them to text while driving, but unlike other states, there is no law banning the use of a cell phone all together. 

All Tampa Bay school districts ban their bus drivers from using a cell phone unless there is an emergency. Each district disciplines violators differently.

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District Cell Phone Policies

Hillsborough County: All drivers sign the Safe Driver Plan yearly. The discipline policy is based on a points system.  A cell phone violation is up to 10 points. The district has an accelerated discipline process which could lead to points on the drivers record and termination on the 1st offense. 

Pinellas County: The district disciplines based on circumstances during usage. If the driver was parked, they receive a warning. If the driver was using a cell phone while driving (not reckless), the violation goes on their record. If the driver was using a cell phone while driving (reckless), termination is considered.

Polk County: The district has a "model policy" according to some parents. For the first offense, the driver is suspended without pay for 5 days; for the second offense the driver is suspending without pay for 10 days; and for the third offense, termination is recommended.

Sarasota County: The district allows their drivers to use a cell phone if they are pulled over and not in traffic. When a complaint is reported, the district checks the time of the call. According to reports, they will then ask the driver if they were using their cell phone. If the driver denies the claim, no further action is taken.

Pasco County: For the first offense, the driver is given a letter of reprimand. For any violations after that, further action is taken.

Unfortunately, complaints are not always recorded and drivers are often not held accountable. Parents are taking notice and have opened the issue for discussion in an online forum called Tampa Bay Mom's Group.

Editorial: Banning cell phones in cars

"You've got the most important thing in the world to me on that bus. If you can't appreciate the responsibility and your cell phone is more important, then you shouldn't be a bus driver," said Steffany Rodriguez-Neely, founder of Tampa Bay Mom's Group. 

"It makes me not want to put my children on a bus," said Kathryn Barrett, parent in Hillsborough County. Both Barrett and Rodriguez-Neely tell 10 News they have reported cell phone infractions multiple times, but they do not feel like anything was done about it.

Cell phone violations in the past 3 years

Hillsborough County: 4 violations; 3 received a letter of reprimand, one resigned.

Pinellas County: 3 violations; 2 received suspension, one resigned.

Polk County: 21 violations.

Sarasota County: Zero violations. The district has received "occasional reports" of cell phone usage in the past few years. All reports have proven inaccurate.

Pasco County: 2 violations; both received letter of reprimand.

In Hillsborough County, all bus drivers have to sign the Safe Driver Plan which explains policies and safety measures they must follow. The policy states drivers can only use a cell phone for emergencies. There have been four violations reported in the last three years. Some parents are not buying that the system works.

"I've seen more than four bus drivers using cell phones. I can't imagine it's a case of it not being reported, so much as not enforced and recorded," said Rodriguez-Neely. 

Hillsborough County keeps records of violations, not complaints.

"Because it can come in different ways, we don't actually log complaints, but we do note them and pull bus video and call the driver," said Tanya Arja, public spokesperson for Hillsborough County Schools.

Arja said all complaints are taken seriously, but not all drivers are disciplined the same. 

"If the driver has been with us ten or twenty years with a clean record, exemplary employee, we would take that into consideration," said Arja.

All school districts in Tampa Bay consider suspension or termination depending on the circumstances during the violation.

To Report Complaint (Make sure to note the time, location and bus number)

Hillsborough County: (813) 982-5500

Pinellas County: (727) 587-2020

Polk County: (863) 534–7300

Manatee County: (941) 782-1287

Sarasota County: (941) 486-2141

Pasco County: Find contact information here

Hernando County: (352) 797-7003