The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration withdrew a notice of proposed rulemaking for entry-level commercial driver training standards that would have impacted school bus drivers. The school bus industry had objected to it because of an already stellar safety record, the limited number of interstate drivers who would be affected by the rule and the cost of implementing the training.
Brenda W. Brown, FMCSA's deputy director of governmental affairs, this week sent an email to commercial carriers and advocates explaining the withdrawal of the NPRM, which was first introduced nearly six years ago. She wrote that public listening sessions held this spring "raised substantive issues" that resulted in FMCSA concluding that moving forward with a final rule "would be inappropriate."
Bob Riley, executive director of NASDPTS, said he attended one of these sessions in March. The following month, the NASDPTS Executive Committee met with FMCSA officials in Washington, D.C., to repeat concerns with the NPRM that were first voiced in a letter of response to the NPRM in 2008. In those comments, NASDPTS pointed out that the overall fatality rate of school bus crashes is 0.2 per 100 million miles vehicle miles traveled, or VMT, compared to 2.5 fatalities per 100 million VMT for trucks. The association wrote, "going back at least 15 years, we can identify only one fatal school bus crash in interstate transportation."
NASDPTS also wrote in its 2008 response that school bus drivers must receive "extensive and specialized licensing and training" in addition to the dozen or so Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards that are unique to school buses.
FMCSA also never referred to school buses, only "trucks," in its original statement explaining the need for technical guidance for driver training. Furthermore, the NPRM states there would only be approximately 119 entry-level interstate school bus drivers who would be affected by the NPRM, an estimate NASDPTS found "extremely low," especially considering that transportation costs for school bus operators would "significantly increase" and lead to a driver shortage.
The National School Transportation Association, also opposed to the NPRM, estimated that the actual costs faced by the school bus industry in implementing the proposed training requirements would be more than $88.4 million in the first year of implementation, compared to an FMCSA estimated that the training would cost the school bus industry $346,300 in the first year.
NSTA voiced similar concerns to those by NASDPTS in its own written response to FMCSA in 2008 and, again, last December when FMCSA began to revisit the NPRM. NSTA also participated in an FMCSA listening session in January. NSTA pointed out that the NPRM made several incorrect assumptions, such as school bus drivers receiving their training in the same manner as motorcoach, transit and truck drivers. As such, NSTA representatives told FMCSA officials that the same curricula for school bus drivers and truck drivers would be inappropriate. NSTA also said school bus contractors have separate employees for home-to-school routes and separate employees for activity trips.
"We are grateful that FMCSA has taken the opportunity for a more thorough research process on this regulation," said NSTA President Tim Flood. "The financial and procedural consequences of this regulation on the school transportation industry are significant and a thoughtful approach is in the best interests of all. Safety is without a doubt our top priority, but we must consider every change to current regulations carefully.
"FMCSA has made the right decision."