Roundup: Books Deemed Dangerous on the School Bus, Bus Pranks and More

A school bus driver south of Montreal made headlines this week for banning his students from reading on the bus, arguing that it is too dangerous. Interestingly, the school board agreed with the driver, saying that because a bus makes frequent and sometimes sudden stops, "Any object, be it a book, a toy or electronic device can be a potential danger when a young child ... gets up to go and get it while the bus is in motion," the school board said in a statement.

A teenager’s prank on the school bus lead to a stop from the California Highway Patrol (CHP) last week. The CHP reported that a 911 caller reported seeing a school bus with a sign that read “Help Us” on the back window. Two units located the bus, which was traveling westbound on State Route 120, and stopped it in order to assess the welfare of the student riders, whom were heading to Lathrop, California to a track meet. The driver told the CHP that the students had put the sign up as a prank earlier in the trip, and that he had instructed them to take it down. While they did as they were told, the sign later went back up. A spokesperson for the students’ school said the responsible student was disciplined.

Jason Dixie, a school bus driver from Fort Wayne, Indiana made the cover of Parade magazine earlier this month for the annual “What People Earn” issue. Dixie had been trying to make the issue for about four years without luck. In those years, he had listed his occupation as “entertainer,” as he travels doing stand-up comedy every summer. But this year, his wife suggested he list his (almost) full-time occupation instead: school bus driver. The magazine’s editorial assistants corresponded with him and told him he was being considered, then strongly considered and ultimately accepted. “I’m on the front page? What a blessing,” he said.

The 10 Commandments for Pupil Transportation”, written by Louk Markham, a school bus driver and author.

I.      Thou shall not drive a bus without a current and appropriate CDL and endorsements as required.

II.     Thou shall conduct proper pre-trip, between trip, and post-trip inspections each day to ensure the safety of myself, my passengers and the other motorists with which I share the road.

III.    Thou shall not allow strangers on thy bus.

IV.    Thou shall prevent accidents from happening.

V.      Thou shall not use the mechanics’ names in vain.

VI.    Thou shall not covet thy co-worker’s students.

VII.   Thou shall not covet thy co-worker’s bus.

VIII.  Thou shall honor thy supervisor, students, and parents.  While we may not always agree with them, we must be respectful of the diversity of the individuals with which we are required to work each day.  They give us our daily bread.

IX.    Thou shall treat others as one would like others to treat oneself (refer to VIII above)

X.      Thou shall remember to keep work days for work and non-work days for family.  While our gainful employment is important to our careers and to pay our bills, our family will be with us for a lifetime.  As in precision driving, balance is important.

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Second Chowchilla Kidnapper Granted Parole

A special parole board in San Luis Obispo, California granted a prison release last week to 63-year-old James Schoenfeld, one of three perpetrators in the infamous 1976 school bus kidnapping in Chowchilla, California.

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Federation Launches 27th School Transportation Security Campaign

QUEBEC CITY - The Bus Carriers Federation officially kicks off its 27th provincial campaign about security in school transportation, having for theme Did You See Me? Starting today, until February 13 inclusively, various actions will be implemented in all regions of the province to remind road users, students and parents to be vigilant in the presence of school buses. Let's remember that in Quebec, more than 523,000 students are transported by school buses in the morning and in the evening, travelling more than a million kilometres per day.

School Bus Safety FAQs

Is school transportation a large enterprise?

There are more than 480,000 yellow school buses on U.S. roads and over 70,000 in Canada. The industry spends about $20 billion annually, mostly in the form of reimbursement to school districts for state-supported transportation costs.

How many children ride school buses?

In the United States, about 25 million children ride school buses to school, and then return home on school buses. That's about 55 percent of the K-12 population. When you multiply the daily ridership times the number of school days school buses provide the United States with an estimated 10 billion student rides annually.

Why are school buses painted yellow?

In 1939, delegates to the first National Minimum Standards Conference wanted a uniform color so school buses would be recognized by the same color nationwide. A second consideration was cost since manufacturers charged additional for special colors. Plus, delegates concluded that for safety sake, yellow was easier to see in fog, rain, and other bad weather conditions.
National School Bus Chrome Yellow was first adopted at that conference. By the way, the conference was held at Teachers College, Columbia University, April 10-16, 1939. All 48 states, at the time, were represented, usually by someone from the state department of education. The group called itself the "National Council of Chief State School Officers," and H.E. Hendrix, State Superintendent of Public Instruction of Arizona, was the first president.
In 1974 the federal government approved Standard 17. In this standard, which has since been revised and is now a highway safety guideline, the federal government suggested that school buses should be painted National School Bus Chrome Yellow. That's when the states started to use yellow on all new buses. At present there is no federal law that requires school buses to be painted yellow. It is up to each state to do so. Some states, South Carolina for example, paint some of their school buses, in this case activity buses, white though the bulk of the state's fleet is painted school bus yellow.

What is the number of persons who can safely sit on a school bus seat?

Federal regulation does not specify the number of persons that can sit on a school bus seat. The school bus manufacturers determine the maximum seating capacity of a school bus. The manufacturers use this number, which is based on sitting three small elementary school age persons per typical 39-inch school bus seat, in the calculations for determining the gross vehicle weight rating and the number of emergency exits. School transportation providers generally determine the number of persons that they can safely fit into a school bus seat. Generally they fit three smaller elementary school age persons or two adult high school age persons into a typical 39 inch school bus seat.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends that all passengers be seated entirely within the confines of the school bus seats while the bus is in motion. Federal motor vehicle safety standard No. 222, "School Bus Passenger Seating and Crash Protection" requires that the interior of large buses provide occupant protection so that children are protected without the need to buckle-up. Occupant crash protection is provided by a protective envelope consisting of strong, closely-spaced seats that have energy-absorbing seat backs. Persons not sitting or sitting partially outside of the school bus seats will not be afforded the occupant protection provided by the school bus seats. It should be noted that FMVSS No. 222 was revised in 2008 to include additional manufacturing guidelines to safely incorporate 3-point lap/shoulder belt restraints in school buses, and previously school bus seating manufacturers began producing and marketing flexible bench seats that can fit three smaller, elementary-age students per seat buckled up or two larger middle school to high school-age students. This solved the problem of losing passenger capacity on school buses that are equipped with seat belts.

What about seat belts? Why don't school buses have seat belts?

The short answer is that small school buses do require seat belts; large school buses, with a few exceptions, don't. Seat belts are not required on larger buses because the U.S. Department of Transportation and others, including Transport Canada, have determined that compartmentalization is the preferred occupant protection system.

Here's the longer answer.

Small buses, that is those under 10,000 lbs., are required by federal law to carry seat belts, and NHTSA's 2008 update to FMVSS 207, 208, 210 and 220 set standards for mandatory 3-point lap/shoulder restraints on these smaller "Type A" school buses. That's because these smaller buses are judged to be closer in size to automobiles and light trucks, and the federal government requires a level of occupant protection similar to what it requires for automobiles and light trucks. However, the same is not required for large school buses for a wide variety of reasons. Large buses typically weight 23,000 lbs or more. NHTSA's same regulatory update said local school districts are the best equipped to decide whether the larger "Type C" and Type D school buses have the seat belts. If the answer is yes, the manufacturing guidelines for how to best install these restraints comes into play.

What is compartmentalization?

Compartmentalization is a passive occupant protection strategy unique to school buses. Student riders are surrounded by a compartment of energy absorbing material — 4-inch-thick foam seats, seat frames that bend to absorb crash forces, and a vehicle designed to absorb energy. The idea is the crash forces will be dissipated or absorbed before they get to the student passengers. However, compartmentalization doesn't work as well in rollover crashes, hence one of the reasons for NHTSA's regulatory update on seat belts.

What are the arguments in favor of compartmentalization?

Compartmentalization is a passive strategy. It exists without any action required on the part of the children or extra supervision by the drivers.
What are the arguments in favor of seat belts on school buses?

The principle arguments in favor of mandating seat belts on large school buses include protection in side impact collisions, prevention of ejection in the event of rollover accidents, carryover value to adulthood of learning proper seat belt use as a child, and low cost to install. Check out our dedicated Seat Belt section that takes a closer look at this volatile subject. (Close the second window on your browser to return to this section.)

Where are seat belts mandated on large school buses?

To date only six states have seat belt laws. New York, New Jersey and Florida have mandated 2-point lap-shoulder belts belts on large school buses. Louisiana has a two-point lap belt law contingent upon state funding, which there is none. California enacted legislation that requires three-point occupant restraint systems on large buses large and small buses. Texas also has a law for three-point seat belts but offers school districts no funding to implement the systems. In addition, since February 1996, seat belts have been required on minibuses used in school transport in Great Britain.

How safe are school buses? I hear about school bus accidents quite often.

According to the National Safety Council, school buses are the safest form of ground transportation. In fact they are about 40 times safer then the family car.

What about fatalities? School bus fatalities do occur!

Yes, unfortunately they do. In an average year, about 25 school children are killed in school bus accidents. One third of these are struck by their own school bus in the loading/unloading zone, one third are struck by motorists who fail to stop for the school bus, and one third are killed as pedestrians approaching or departing the school bus stop. Very few are killed inside the bus. The most common fatality involving a school bus is to a motorist who hits the bus. There are about 120 Americans killed annually in this type of fatality.

Where does the information about school bus fatalities come from?

There are three major sources: the National Safety Council, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the Kansas Department of Education. The NSC offers both fatality and injury data, though its data is based on projections and extrapolations. Through the Fatal Accident Reporting System, or FARS as it is known, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration collects data on all highway fatalities--automobiles, trucks, buses, pedestrians, bicyclists, etc.--in the nation. The agency has very strict criteria a fatality must meet to be included in its database. For instance, from FARS we know that an average of 120 motorists are killed annually when their automobile runs into a school bus. That's the most common fatality related to school buses.

The annual School Bus Loading & Unloading Zone Survey by the Kansas Department of Education, published in December or early January, reports the number of fatal accidents in the so called "danger zone" around the school bus. The danger zone is defined as the area 10 feet in front of, behind, and to both sides of the school bus. The data shows that is where most of the school bus accidents and fatalities to school children occur. They are either run over by their own school bus or struck by a motorist passing the stopped school bus. This series of data goes back to 1968. It only tracks student fatalities outside the bus. It does not compile data about fatalities or injuries to students or drivers inside the bus. Nor does it track fatalities to motorists who may collide with a school bus, nor data about student lives saved through the use of seat belts. Efforts are currently underway to expand the survey to include injury data.

What about injury data?

The principal sources of national injury information about school buses is the National Safety Council and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Many states annually publish injury and fatality data also.
The NSC projects injury data nationwide based on accident reports submitted to it by state departments of education.

The American Academy of Pediatrics also has monitored the number of school bus injuries, but its data looks for all instances in which a child had to visit the emergency room after an incident on a bus. It's important to note that this analysis could include anything from a student fight to slipping on the bus stairwell when loading or unloading.

What's this status of using school buses for racial integration purposes?

No one knows for sure how many court-ordered busing plans are--or were--in place. Not even the U.S. Department of Justice keeps track of this information. However, in its heyday, experts in the field estimated there were as many as 400 court-ordered busing plans. Busing for integration purposes still exists, but more commonly it is now being reversed. Urban centers such as Cleveland and Denver have totally eliminated court-ordered busing.
How are school buses regulated?

No one knows for sure how many court-ordered busing plans are--or were--in place. Not even the U.S. Department of Justice keeps track of this information. However, in its heyday, experts in the field estimated there were as many as 400 court-ordered busing plans. Busing for integration purposes still exists, but more commonly it is now being

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Seat Belt FAQs

We hear it all the time: Why don't school buses have seat belts? Find out the answer to this and other frequently asked questions on school bus occupant safety.

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Non-Conforming Vans FAQs

What are the legal standards for vehicles used to transport students?

The federal Motor Vehicle Safety Act prohibits the sale to a school or the purchase by a school of a vehicle under the following circumstances:
1. The vehicle must be sold new;
2. The vehicle must have a capacity of greater than 10;
3. The vehicle must be used to transport pre-primary, primary or secondary students to and from school or school related activities; and
4. The vehicle must not meet federal school bus safety standards.

Why does the law only applies to new vehicles?

The reason is that when the school bus safety provision was added to the existing Motor Vehicle Safety Act, the only applicable vehicles covered by the original Act were those sold new. This made sense under the original Motor Vehicle Safety Act since it was not easy to mandate new safety standards retroactively. There is no question that as to the school bus safety features, this is a loophole in the federal law. However, in the course of investigating illegal van sales to schools, we found most involved sales of new vehicles.

Why does the law apply only to the seller and not the buyer?

Again, this is a feature of the Motor Vehicle Safety Act, which prohibits manufacturers and dealers from selling unsafe vehicles and does not make it illegal for a consumer to purchase such a vehicle. There is no question that this loophole has created an incentive by some schools to try to defeat the intent of the federal statute by trying to find a dealer willing to sell vans to schools. As the Strebler case indicated, however, the schools undertaking such a course of knowingly utilizing vehicles not meeting federal safety standards face potential liability under ordinary negligence theories unless their state specifically authorizes this use of such vehicles

How does the federal law affect states that allow school to use nonconforming vans?

Federal statute is the supreme law of the land and any sale by a dealer to a school is in violation of the federal statute, notwithstanding efforts by a state to make such transactions lawful. The primary effect of such statutes is to potentially defeat claims against schools utilizing these vehicles from grieving families in wrongful death cases or seriously injured children who have survived collisions in these unauthorized vehicles. States that don't comply can see a withholding of federal highway safety funds, similar to what happens when states don't enforce primary seat belt or drunk driving laws.

What is a pre-primary, primary, or secondary school?

The law has not been firmly established on this issue, but it is likely that any institution carrying the name "school", "academy", "kindergarten", or other similar name will probably be subject to the statute. Moreover, any program which has sequenced instruction or promotes itself as teaching certain basic skills will also likely be considered to be a school.

Does a statute include a school’s summer or camp programs?


Isn’t a van safer because it has seat belts while a school bus does not?

No. In fact, comparable sized small school buses are required to have seat belts because they weigh less than 10,000 pounds. School buses, as indicated above, have markedly superior per road mile safety records than all other vehicles, regardless of the seat belt issue. In fact, school buses are designed with a "compartmentalization" concept, which keeps children within and near their seats by placing the seats forward to them very close and with significant interior padding and other safety features.

What about day care centers, girl scout troops and programs for the elderly?

Congress, in its wisdom, created special protections on nonconforming vans especially for children on their way to and from school and transported by their school district. This law has not been extended to protect others, and many safety experts say that Congress should look to address this issue, particularly for children transported by day care centers.

Aren’t school buses significantly more expensive than vans?

The initial cost of a 15 seater school bus is approximately $8,000.00 to $9,000.00 greater than a comparable sized van. However, the school bus has a significantly longer road life and is less expensive to maintain. Recent calculations have determined that the per road mile cost of a 15 seater school bus is actually cheaper than a comparable sized van.

If parents can transport kids legally in these vans, why can’t schools?

Parents can transport kids on motorcycles to school or let them cross dangerous roads unsupervised, and no one would suggest schools can do this. Federal law expects higher levels of safety to be provided by school officials transporting school children to school or to school related activities.

Can school transportation help to enforce the law to protect child safety?

There are three options for school transportation personnel:
1. You can inform all school officials attempting to purchase these nonconforming vans that such a sale violates the Motor Vehicle Safety Act and the seller is breaking the law. Moreover, the purchaser of such a vehicle faces potential liability under the common law of negligence should a child be injured or die in a collision in a nonconforming van. You may want to go on record about such unlawful sales because schools and school districts may be very reluctant to engage in such sales if they know that there is, in writing, concerns raised about these vehicles that might be disclosed later should some tragic event occur.
2. Any violation known can be reported confidentially to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The contact person is Mr. Allen Kam in the Office of General Counsel, whose number is 202-366- 5248. Based upon recent new attention to this area by NHTSA, it is likely that any report will be promptly investigated and sanctions taken against the dealer who sells such a vehicle.
3. You may advise families who have children injured or killed in such vehicles of their potential legal rights to pursue damage claims against the parties who participated in the sale or purchase of nonconforming vans. In the final analysis, the threat of liability may be the most effective deterrent against the use of nonconforming vans to transport school children.

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School Specialty Expands Into New Markets With Safety Training

GREENVILLE, Wis. — School Specialty, Inc. (OTCQB:SCOO) ("School Specialty" or "the Company"), a leading distributor of supplies, furniture and both supplemental and curriculum products to the education marketplace, today announced the launch of SSI GUARDIAN, a new curriculum-based security initiative designed to keep schools, and our children safe.