Revised LED Standards Expected in 2020 National School Bus Specifications

The Gardian Angel LED lighting system being used on a school bus.
The Gardian Angel LED lighting system being used on a school bus.

The school transportation industry is seeing the light in instituting new standards that favor light-emitting diode (LED) lighting over incandescent bulbs. States, school districts, law enforcement, and manufacturers agree that upgrading school bus lighting can help reduce the rate of drivers illegally passing school buses that are loading and unloading student passengers, plus help drivers see better in the dark.

The 17th National Congress on School Transportation (NCST) that reconvenes in May 2020 is in the early process of amending lighting standards in the Lamps and Signals section of the National School Bus Specifications and Procedures manual. That book is considered to be a critical guideline for vehicle operations and purchases.

A key portion of the upcoming manual is expected to examine LED lighting, which illuminates when electrons pass through a semiconductor. LED lighting is known for its greater radiance, better visibility in the dark and improved energy efficiency.

During its conference, which is held every five years, the NCST will bring together officials from state education, school transportation, law enforcement and industry-related corporations to work in committees and collectively write school bus standards. The results of the industry-wide effort will be released as a new manual in 2020.

“There currently is nothing that prohibits the use of LED in lieu of incandescent bulbs for required lighting on school buses. However, it is the use of LEDs (e.g., type, size and placement) as auxiliary lighting that requires further study,” explained Chris Jose, regional pupil transportation coordinator for Educational Services District 101 in Washington state, and chair of the school bus specifications writing committee for NCST.

States Shine an LED Light on Safety

Efforts made by the NCST are following the lead of numerous school districts and more than 20 states that in recent years have already amended standards for LED lighting on school buses.

For instance, the State School Bus Specifications Revision Committee for Kentucky has already adopted minimum specifications for retrofitted and new school bus chassis that require they be equipped with LED headlamps and dimmer switches. The lighting can be placed on the bus as clearance lamps, identification lamps, back-up lamps, stop and tail lamps, license plate illuminators, outside warning systems, turn signals, and stop arm signals.

“These lamps eliminate dark areas and improve forward visibility for our bus drivers and the other drivers on the road,” said Chris Schadler, transportation manager at Walton-Verona Independent Schools in Kentucky. Schadler has helped identify products and solutions that comply with specifications.

Michigan District Stands Against Violators

Bridgman Public Schools, a Michigan district located near the Indiana border, installed $60,000 in new safety features in March 2019. Those included high-definition cameras and LED lights on all school bus exteriors. Now, footage automatically transmits straight from school buses to local police, who say with that evidence, they can issue a ticket within the same day.

The district’s urgency in preventing motorists from passing school buses comes after a deadly crash in Indiana last fall that claimed the lives of three siblings when they attempted to board the bus.

“LED lighting has greatly increased the welfare of our students, provided more visibility to drivers, and is another tool for our driver’s tool belt to transport students to and from school as safely as possible each and every day,” said Bridgman Public Schools Superintendent Shane Peters.

Vendors Have Your Back

Manufacturers are also providing states, school districts and the NCST with technical assistance to decide on LED lighting standards and solutions, they report. Notable companies serving vehicle and safety industries include J.W. Speaker, Gardian Angel and Safe Fleet.

“Sales of LED stop arm lights remain popular [because of] their visual clarity, brightness in low light conditions, longevity and low amp draw,” said Doug Campbell, national account manager at Safe Fleet. He noted that Safe Fleet worked with the Michigan Association of Pupil Transportation (MAPT) on a study to help reduce pass-bys of stopped school buses.

The report ultimately recommended that MAPT work with Michigan law enforcement agencies to place driver alert system communication devices on school buses. Radar detects if a motorist is not stopping for the school bus, while the red lights flash and the federally-mandated stop arm is extended. An audible warning sounds and lights flash to alert the student, as well as the bus driver.

The system was demonstrated during the STN EXPO Indianapolis in June.

Other recommendations urged pupil transportation supervisors to use lighting options at school bus stops, in order to safeguard students.

“LED lighting can change motorists’ actions when approaching stopping or stopped school buses. It’s a vital [part of] impacting the overall safety of a child’s journey to and from school,” concluded Campbell.