Concerns about health, student safety and the environment dominated the Monday sessions of the 2015 NASDPTS Conference with numerous recommendations from a variety of agencies to improve current standards and ensure the future remains bright.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration updated an eager audience about present and impending initiatives and actions that the agency is implementing.
Larry Minor, an associate administrator for the FMCSA, specifically addressed tracking drivers who may have health ailments or substance abuse problems, pointing to a national database for districts to utilize to gather information on up-to-date medical certificates and alcohol/drug infractions.
The database is being put into action to assist in protecting districts from school bus drivers who may have been fired in one area only to get hired elsewhere, and alert administrators to possible fitness issues that could put children in jeopardy.
The FMCSA has also been engaging stakeholders about the upcoming Entry Level Driver Training program. “This was a rare instance where everyone agreed there should be a federal rule,” said Minor.
While school bus drivers are not mandated for endorsement or required to pass refresher training under the new regulations, in order to get a Class A CDL, among the many statutes, one must have 30 hours behind the wheel. The final rule should go into effect fall 2016.
Focusing on student safety, Thomas Barth, a Survival Factors investigator and biomechanics engineer with the National Transportation Safety Board, shared the results of investigations into school bus crashes that have occurred in the last two decades.
While walking the audience through the details of each crash and chronicling the outcomes, Barth emphasized the importance of having an operational video system aboard school buses and the benefits of having seat belts installed.
Barth described the causes of each fatality, saying that students without seat belts were killed during collisions as they were flung about the bus. Blunt was subtle in the proposal that at the very least lap belts prevented these sorts of deaths, going further to admit that shoulder restraints were the safest method of prevention.
While not outright calling for seat belts to be a federal requirement – Barth claiming that NTSB was “walking a fine line” to not undercut the overall safety of school buses – the investigator did stress that when worn correctly, seat belts save lives.
“The school bus is the safest means of transportation, but there’s always room for improvement,” said Barth.
The Environmental Protection Agency briefly touched on the current status of a rebate program to get older school buses off the road and scrap them permanently. The districts that take advantage of this program, Jennifer Keller, program manager for the EPA reported, are awarded grant money to replace their fleet with new, “fuel neutral” models.
So far, school districts from around the country have applied for the rebate, with many of them located in Missouri and South Carolina, and a good share peppered throughout the Plains States. This year, $7 million has been budgeted for this program.
“We see this as a social mandate to promote that school buses are the safest way to go,” said Keller.
Additionally, NASDPTS President Leon Langley read a statement in support of the recent announcement by NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind calling for a new federal policy position that three-point seat belts should be available for all schoolchildren aboard buses.