INDIANAPOLIS — To commence the fourth annual STN EXPO in Indianapolis, panelists discussed the pressures and safety requirements surrounding school bus stops.
Moderated by STN Editor-in-Chief Ryan Gray on Friday, the panelists considered how the industry can improve the safety of school bus stops through driver and student training, with a complement played by technology.
Katrina Falk, the director of transportation for Shelby Eastern Schools in Shelbyville, Indiana, about a 35-minute drive to an hour drive southwest of downtown, Indianapolis, recalled the 2018 illegal passing incident in Rochester, Indiana that claimed the life of three students and seriously injured a fourth.
Falk noted that tragedy could have been avoided, if state guidelines for rural school bus stops were in place. She stated repeatedly that the industry is historically reactive and that views about how to design school bus stops need to change.
For instance, following the three-student fatality, several school districts in Indiana, including Shelby Eastern updated their routes. The state also enacted Senate Enrolled Act 2, which requires that students not cross to or from bus stops located outside of city limits and along U.S. or state routes or state routes, unless no other safe alternatives are available.
Meanwhile, Nick Martini, the coordinator of transportation for Osseo Area Schools ISD 279 serving the northwest suburbs of Minneapolis, said he contracts out his transportation operation, but that doesn’t eliminate the liability for his district. He said that while contracting takes some of the control away, it’s on the school district to find where liability lies and to initiate and oversee necessary safety improvements.
He said district officials need to have a process in place for auditing their vendors and allowing parents to provide feedback on bus routes to the transportation department.
Martini explained that some school bus contractors are admitting that their pools of school bus driver applicants has shrunk, but they are not making changes to their training schedules. He noted that during the auditing process, he explains to his partners issues that need to be corrected, which ensures the district has done its due diligence.
Martini added that his situation is helped by routers that are district employees, and stops are built and changed on a per-request basis. He added that directors should also be aware of road closures in and around the areas, construction, changes in speed limits, and the number of lanes on the road.
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Meanwhile, Dick Fisher, who began driving a school bus in 1956, directed school bus departments at school districts, led safety at a contractor, and has owned Trans-Consult since 1977, pointed out the importance of following standards that should be widely known regarding school bus stop procedures.
However, an exercise with attendees that gauged their knowledge of proper procedures school bus drivers should take when preparing to make a stop proved the opposite. He said if industry leaders in the audience don’t know what the commercial driver’s license manual used nationwide says about how to conduct a school bus stop, how are they going to be able to teach it to their drivers?
Fisher added that a lack of law uniformity across all 50 states is also confusing to other motorists. That is why, he noted, it’s so important for community members as well as school bus drivers themselves to be fully educated on the laws and regulations.
Falk added that her district emphasizes training the students as well. She said twice a year, in addition to training the student bus riders throughout the year, school buses are on display at elementary schools for danger zone and school bus stop safety as well as for familiarity of school bus exits and emergency evacuation procedures.