NTSB urges ban on use of non-conforming buses
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is urging states to prohibit the use of 10- to 15-passenger vans to transport children to and from school and school-related activities. In a report presented at a June 8 hearing in Washington, D.C., the NTSB also urged the Department of Health and Human Services to require that Head Start children be transported only in school buses. Currently, federal law prohibits automobile dealers from selling or leasing new 10- to 15-passenger vans to schools or other organizations for school transportation purposes. However, some states allow schools to operate these vans, which the NTSB define as “non-conforming buses.” In preparing its report, the NTSB investigated four accidents in 1998 and early 1999 that involved vans designed to carry 10 or more passengers. Nine people were killed and 36 others injured in the accidents, which involved collisions with other vehicles. In a safety recommendation released July 6, the NTSB said it is “firmly convinced that the best way to maximize pupil transportation safety is to ensure that vehicles carrying more than 10 passengers and transporting children to and from school or school-related activities. . . meet the school bus structural standards or the equivalent set forth in 49 Code of Federal Regulations, Part 571.” In three of the four accidents, NTSB investigators concluded that the number and severity of injuries could have been reduced by the use of school buses instead of passenger vans. They cited the school bus’ greater structural strength and compartmentalized seating. In the fourth accident, the board concluded that the crash was so severe that the increased safety of a school bus might not have made any difference. The accidents also raised questions about procedures for transporting preschool children. To that end, the NTSB recommended that states distribute and encourage the implementation of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s “Guideline for the Safe Transportation of Preschool- Age Children in School Buses,” which was released in February.
European flavor captured in new driver training video
By Dave Wilson, Department of Defense Dependents Schools, European Transportation Management Office Not surprisingly, school bus safety videos featuring the traditional yellow school bus are met with a shrug here in Europe. It’s easy to understand why — the bus driver takes one look at the bus and says, “This does not apply to me. My bus doesn’t look like that. It has no such lights, and the laws here are different, too.” But video training is effective. And Terry Fuglsang, chief of the U.S. Department of Defense Dependents Schools European Transportation Management Office (DETMO), identified a need for more comprehensive and uniform training for drivers. So, we at DETMO decided to produce our own video. First, some background on DETMO, which is headquartered in Mainz-Kastel, Germany. We are responsible for the management of approximately 900 school bus routes. These routes transport 24,000 American schoolchildren each school day on and around American military installations throughout Europe. Now, back to the video. We decided the best strategy was to adapt some U.S. school bus safety principles while observing local laws and differences in vehicles. DETMO personnel drafted a script to establish the message and then arranged a production contract with a German film company. That was followed by work with film production personnel on the details to transform the message into an effective video. Student volunteers were selected to participate as “actors,” and a European driver and bus were obtained. Despite the vagaries of European weather, the filming was accomplished and, for the most part, the original timeline was met. The outcome is a video that depicts a European bus driver in a European-style bus in a typical European environment. The video emphasizes the school bus “danger zone” and demonstrates the desired method to approach a school bus stop, to load students and to proceed to school. Along the route, the video demonstrates fundamental techniques of student passenger behavior control. It might not satisfy American audiences, but this video is a hit with our European bus drivers.
NAPT, NASDPTS create media resource
The National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) and the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS) have established the School Bus Information Council (SBIC) to provide the media with up-to-date statistics and other information about pupil transportation. “The goal is to help reporters get up to speed quickly when they are researching school bus issues,” explained NAPT President Don Carnahan. “School buses are a great American success story with a safety record that is unmatched in motor vehicle transportation,” said Terry Voy, president of NASDPTS. “Yet, because of the important passengers they carry, even minor school bus crashes usually make the news. We want to provide reporters with facts that will help them cover these stories more effectively.” Carnahan said the SBIC encourages reporters to look beyond the immediate news value of an incident involving children and consider the circumstances carefully. For example, was the bus at fault or was it struck at high speed by a drunk driver? Was a child struck getting off the bus because a motorist failed to obey the law and stop for the bus? Were even more casualties avoided because the bus structure provided excellent overall crash protection even under severe circumstances? The SBIC offers a toll-free number (888/FOR-SBIC) to expedite information requests.
Parents group seeks $500,000 to install seat belts on buses
A group of parents in Santa Fe, N.M., has launched an aggressive campaign to put seat belts on local school buses, despite warnings by state officials and the district’s transportation director that the restraint system needs further testing. “I’m very uncomfortable with the way the parents committee is trying to rush it,” said Carlos Santiago, transportation director at Santa Fe Public Schools. “I’m for anything that would increase the safety for the children. But there are still a lot of questions to be asked.” The parents group, which calls itself Seatbelts for Our School Children, has raised $24,500 toward the $500,000 cost of installing a three-point restraint system designed by Busbelt Development Corp. on the district’s 93 large school buses. The group already has enough money to put the seat-belt system on three buses, but is discovering that there are other obstacles besides funding. For example, the three-point belt system that it has selected has not been approved by New Mexico’s Department of Education, which says that seats would have to be redesigned to accommodate the new belt system. According to Gary Murphy, CEO of Busbelts, the two-passenger seats they plan to use in Santa Fe have passed extensive dynamic tests and meet all federal standards. However, Gilbert Perea, pupil transportation director at the Department of Education, is not satisfied and would like to see testing documentation from an independent engineer. Jim Beer, head of the parent group, said Perea is also asking that the parents committee provide evidence that at least one manufacturer would install these belts in school buses made today. The campaign for seat belts comes in the wake of a March 2 charter bus crash that claimed two lives. Both victims were ejected through the bus’ windshield. Beer said the committee hopes to prevent further such incidents and to heal past wounds. “It’s a route to community and family unity,” he says.
Breathalyzer would lock out intoxicated school bus drivers
New York state legislators are considering a measure that would require all new school buses to have an ignition interlock system that would prevent drunken bus drivers from starting the engine. The bill, sponsored by state Sen. George Maziarz, would require that all new buses be equipped with a breathalyzer device that would “lock out” drivers who are under the influence of alcohol. In a pilot project at Hoosick Falls (N.Y.) Central School District, two school buses were fitted with the Draeger Interlock Trip Recorder, which was developed by Draeger Safety Inc. and CARSS Inc. (Children and Adult Road Safety Systems Inc.) “So far, everything we have heard from Hoosick is that it’s working great,” said Keliann Argy, president of CARSS. She said the device has been successfully tested for the past two years at Niagara Falls Coach Lines, a school bus company owned by Argy’s family. “If this bill passes, I see a tremendous impact on the industry nationally,” said Donald Boyle, executive director of the New York School Bus Contractors Association. Boyle said earlier ignition interlock devices used in the trucking industry were not reliable. “But the engineering of these products has progressed,” he said. If the measure is approved, Boyle believes the device should also be required on any transit buses that transport schoolchildren. “The transit vehicle is sadly given very little attention where safety is concerned,” he said.