A new law that improves fireproofing of school buses was recently signed into law by Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. Senate Bill 369 mandates that every new school bus in Maryland must have passenger seats made of fire-block materials as of Jan. 1, 2014.
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Pupil Transportation Director Leon Langley with the Maryland State Department of Education noted that a distinction was made between “fire-resistant” versus “fire-block” materials used to cover the passenger seats. One-third of the state’s 24 jurisdictions had already switched to requiring that new buses have fire-block passenger seats, and the driver seat in most buses already met these requirements, he added.
Langley estimated that Maryland currently has about 7,200 school buses in operation, and school districts purchase an average of 600 new buses a year, combined.
“Fire block is absolutely a step up,” said Langley, who is also the Eastern region director for the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services. “The cost of installing these seats runs $600 to $700 a bus. For a minimal expense, this seemed to be a very worthwhile safety improvement.”
Langley explained that SB 369, which was backed by the California nonprofit organization Citizens for Fire Safety, originally included the requirement that each plastic component contained in the engine compartment of a school bus “shall meet a V-0 classification when tested in accordance with Underwriters Laboratories Inc. Standards for Safety UL 94” — but that provision was deleted.
While Langley said he supports finding new ways to improve student safety onboard the bus, he said that industry-wide specifications fall under the purview of the National Congress on School Transportation that is held every five years, most recently in May 2010. Additionally, he said the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration governs Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards for school buses and could address the issue the federal level. He added that he is not sure why Citizens for Fire Safety applauded Maryland and Nevada on its website, when “every state has language in their specs that address fire safety.”
“For years, the National Congress on School Transportation discussed what qualifies it as a fire-block seat cover. In Maryland we take under advisement what the Congress says, but it’s not our bible,” Langley said. “This [law] is something we were slowly moving toward…even though in our state, there have been no injuries due to fires.
“The question that has to be asked is: Do we need to look at this at the national level? I don’t think Maryland has a problem in this area more than any other state.”