The National Association for State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS) is promoting a 50-state initiative to introduce specialty license plates that are aimed at educating the motoring public on school bus safety. The project is similar to programs that were developed first in Ohio and most recently in Iowa.
As reported last summer, the Ohio Association for Pupil Transportation launched an education program that uses license plates to remind motorists to stop for student loading and unloading when the school bus flashes red lights—and federally mandated stop arms are activated. The goal is to reduce illegal passing; NASDPTS works with states each year in surveying the number of such infractions that occur on a given day, as recorded by participating school bus drivers.
Jeff Vrabel, Jr., the fleet operations supervisor for Columbus City Schools in Ohio, and the chair of the NASDPTS State and National Association Committee, spearheaded the Ohio project. He presented the program to the NASDPTS board last year and then to all members last fall at the NASDPTS Annual Conference. Former NASDPTS President Max Christensen, the state director of student transportation services for the Iowa Department of Education, took notice.
“I decided it looked like a great idea, and one that I wanted to bring back to Iowa and try to implement,” he told STN this week.
Christensen said he was already aware of the long process needed before a license plate program might be approved. He inquired with the Iowa Department of Transportation’s Motor Vehicle Division and discovered that the process wouldn’t be as laborious as he anticipated.
“I was pleasantly surprised and quite honestly shocked to find out how easy it was going to be, at least compared to Ohio,” he added.
Christensen learned that the Iowa Legislature passed legislation in 2016 that eliminated an emblem application process that required 500 paid applications for a new license plate before it could be manufactured. Instead, the legislature approved a new process for nonprofit organizations to submit application requests for a decal that represents their organization and that can be placed on a special “decal” license plate.
Christensen decided the Iowa Pupil Transportation Association (IPTA) would be the ideal sponsor. But first, he worked with Vrabel to determine if Iowa could borrow Ohio’s existing design. Vrabel agreed and mocked up a new license plate decal. Meanwhile, Christensen obtained the application form and additional information from LaVonne Short of the Iowa DOT’s Office of Vehicle & Motor Carrier Services.
Christensen then contacted IPTA Executive Director Chris Darling. “Chris was on board almost immediately,” Christensen recalled. “He went to work redesigning the artwork a bit ... basically taking away the outline of the state of Ohio behind the bus, and replacing it with the outline of the state of Iowa. He then combined that with an image of the special Iowa decal license plate to show what the actual potential plate could or would look like.”
Christensen and Darling presented the concept to the IPTA board in January. IPTA approved the program and signed as the 501(c)3 nonprofit sponsor. It took only four months from the time Christensen first learned about Ohio’s program for the Iowa specialty school bus license plate to become a reality. He said that motorists but not school districts can now order the plates.
Next up for the Iowa and Ohio contingents was approaching Diana Hollander, NASDPTS president and the state director of student transportation at the Nevada Department of Education, to suggest taking the license plate initiative nationwide. Christensen and Vrabel presented the idea at the NASDPTS spring board meeting during the TSD Conference. The board approved it.
NASDPTS will be contacting the remaining 48 state directors and offering assistance in determining what laws and rules apply in each state for the development of a consistent school bus license plate safety message nationwide, Christensen explained. He added that NASDPTS is also offering Vrabel’s school bus artwork for use in all 50 states.
“Our hope and desire is to eventually see school bus license plates in all 50 states, using the same artwork and promoting the same ‘Flashing Red - Stop Ahead’ message,” Christensen added. “Our industry oftentimes talks about the lack of consistency in state laws regarding passing stopped school buses, so a consistent message such as this could be a very welcome addition to the conversation.”
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