State Directors Tab Safety Issues as Top Concerns

Steve Hirano, Executive Editor
Posted on February 1, 1999

Non-conforming vans, illegal pass-bys and driver shortages are among the top concerns of members of the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS), which met Oct. 30-Nov. 3, 1998, in Austin, Texas, for its annual conference. Called "Roping Partnerships," the meeting brought together 39 of the 50-plus members of NASDPTS, one of the association's strongest turnouts. Before the conference, NASDPTS members submitted one-page reports on their state programs, listing new materials developed, new programs, key rulings, court decisions and legislation and major issues of concern. The following is a summary of these reports. Not every state is represented in this compilation because some state pupil transportation directors did not submit reports.

ALASKA - Joe Precourt (Administrator of Pupil Transportation, Division of Education Support Services) reported that the state overhauled its regulations for pupil transportation and developed a new foundation formula that mandates 90 percent reimbursement for school districts and 100 percent for contractors.

Major issues: 1.) non-conforming vans; 2.) reworking of pupil transportation reimbursement formula; and 3.) updating Department of Education regulations for the first time in 20 years.

CALIFORNIA - John Green (Supervisor, Office of School Transportation, Department of Education) reported that the California Association of School Transportation Officials received a grant to develop a special-education guide for school bus operators. In addition, he noted that school buses loading or unloading students who need special assistance do not have to activate their red flashing lights, based on a legislative counsel's opinion to the California Highway Patrol.

Major issues: 1.) seat belts; 2.) non-conforming vans; 3.) school bus overcrowding; 4.) replacement of pre-1977 buses; and 5.) driver shortages.

CONNECTICUT - Lt. Wayne Sinclair (Department of Motor Vehicles) reported that the state is now logging all inspection reports of school buses directly from the field using laptop computers as mobile data terminals. Robin Leeds (Executive Director, Connecticut School Transportation Association) reported that a system that allows school bus drivers to directly report stop-arm violators to the Department of Motor Vehicles has been successful. The DMV enters the vehicle owner's name in a database and sends a warning letter to the owner. If the owner receives a second complaint, the DMV issues a $450 ticket.

Major issues (Leeds): 1.) driver shortage; 2.) DMV staff shortage; 3.) non-conforming vans; and 4.) seat belt controversy.

DELAWARE - Ron Love (Transportation Supervisor, Department of Education) reported that a school transportation regulation that is to be part of an overall Department of Education regulation is under development. He also reported that after July 1, 1998, all newly purchased and newly leased vehicles with a rated capacity, as defined by the manufacturer, to carry more than 10 passengers in addition to the driver that are used to transport preprimary, primary and secondary pupils between home and school or to school-related events shall meet state and federal specifications and safety standards applicable to school buses.

Major issues: 1.) illegal pass-bys; 2.) driver recruitment and retention; 3.) increasing special-education requirements; 4.) school bus discipline; and 5.) charter school transportation.

FLORIDA - Charlie Hood (Director, School Transportation, Department of Education) reported that the DOE mounted a public relations campaign with funding from NHTSA on illegal passing of stopped school buses. The campaign included a full-color brochure, poster, a 30-second public service announcement and a toll-free number for citizens to report illegal passing. Hood also reported that a task force has been appointed to study the state's policy of not reimbursing for transportation of students who live less than two miles walking distance from school.

Major issues: 1.) funding level (annual 3 percent increase in number of transported students while state reimbursement has leveled off at about 60 percent of expenditures); 2.) two-mile limit and hazardous walking criteria; 3.) student discipline; and 4.) use of multipurpose passenger vehicles (MPVs) and passenger cars.

IDAHO - Rodney McKnight (Coordinator, Pupil Transportation, Department of Education) reported that the DOE disseminated its revised Pupil Transportation Manual and also developed and disseminated a new Driver Training Curriculum Guide, with tabulated topics, comprehensive exams and discussion topics. In place is a program for inspections of new school buses based on material developed by Ray Merical, pupil transportation specialist.

Major issues: 1.) driver selection and retention; 2.) driver training and curriculum changes; 3.) minor funding changes expected this year; and 4.) technician certification.

ILLINOIS - Alvida Petro (Fiscal Consultant, State Board of Education) noted that the State Board of Education is still implementing the school bus safety control device legislation requiring that all school buses be equipped with crossing arms by Dec. 31, 1999. She said $500,000 has been appropriated in fiscal year 1999 to assist districts in retrofitting their fleets.

Major issues: 1.) lack of funding to develop school bus driver and student curricula and training; 2.) illegal use of vans (11-15 passengers); and 3.) illegal passing of school buses.

INDIANA - Pete Baxter (Director, Division of School Traffic Safety, Department of Education) said the state's School Bus Committee has been ordered to put together rules and regulations for physical performance standards and measurements for school bus drivers.

Major issues: 1.) driver shortage; 2.) use of non-conforming vehicles; and 3.) new rules on school bus driver physical performance standards and measurements.

IOWA - Terry Voy (School Transportation Consultant, Department of Education) reported that the Department of Education, in conjunction with the Iowa Pupil Transportation Association, has produced a new 13-minute video called "Why Not You?" It's a school bus driver recruitment tool for administrators and supervisors to use with local community and civic groups. The video is available from Professional Video in Des Moines, Iowa, (515/277-5599), and costs about $50. Voy also reported on a series of questions that he submitted to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's chief consul on day-care facilities. The response indicated that day-care facilities that are providing to-and-from school transportation services on a regular or frequent basis are school bus operations and that vehicles sold to them by auto dealers must comply with the FMVSS applicable to school buses when the vehicle capacity is 10 passengers or greater. This makes it illegal for a dealer to sell or lease a 12- to 15-passenger van to day-care providers if the vehicle is being used for school purposes.

Major issues: 1.) driver recruitment and retention; 2.) funding for school transportation vehicles; 3.) special-needs transportation, including the proper seating and securement for infants and toddlers; 4.) student discipline; and 5.) adequate time and resources to accomplish everything that should be done.

KANSAS - Larry Bluthardt (Director, School Bus Safety Education Unit, Kansas State Board of Education) noted that state legislators changed the definition of a bus to a vehicle carrying 14 or more passengers, rather than 10 or more - despite warnings about the Jacob Strebler case, in which a million-dollar-plus settlement followed the death of 6-year-old Jacob. The boy was killed when the 15-passenger school van he was riding in was broadsided by a large truck. "It is a sad situation when we are forced to use the loss of a student's life to get the attention of adults," Bluthardt said. "It did not work."

Major issues: 1.) discipline; 2.) transportation of infants and toddlers; 3.) vans; 4.) shortage of drivers; and 5.) seat belts.

LOUISIANA - William Gallegos (Education Executive Administrator, Department of Education) reported that attempts are continuing to re-create the School Transportation Bureau, which was abolished in 1988. "Maybe the three accidents we had in one of our districts will catch the attention of our legislators," he said.

MAINE - William Millar (Transportation Specialist, Department of Education) noted that the state is developing a driver handbook and revising its specs.

Major issues: 1.) funding for new equipment; and 2.) use of non-conforming vans.

MARYLAND - Donald LaFond (Chief of Pupil Transportation, Department of Education) reported that his state is developing a training program in mirror usage and distance judgment for all school bus drivers.

Major issues: 1.) use of vans; 2.) the 12-year limit on school bus use for public schools; and 3.) driver shortages.

MINNESOTA - Major Dennis Lazenberry (Minnesota State Patrol) reported that a new state program calls for random, surprise school bus inspections conducted at sites other than the terminal. Lazenberry added that the legislature approved a "not a drop" measure that penalizes a school bus driver with any amount of intoxicating substances in his system.

Major issues: 1.) inadequate funding for replacement of aging buses; and 2.) driver shortages.

MISSISSIPPI - Regina Ginn (Director of Transportation, Department of Education) reported that the state is developing guidelines for safe practices to transport pre-kindergarten children.

Major issues: 1.) pre-kindergarten transportation; 2.) special-needs transportation; and 3.) seat belts on school buses.

MISSOURI - Gerri Ogle (Coordinator of School Administrative Services, Department of Elementary & Secondary Education) reported that several new training materials were developed, including a video that reviews new safety equipment on school buses and a video on emergency evacuation. Ogle also reported that legislation was passed that prohibits efficiency reduction of any school district's state transportation aid reimbursement for the reported cost of transporting students with disabilities.

Major issues: 1.) loading and unloading zone safety; 2.) full funding of pupil transportation; 3.) transportation of pre-kindergarten children using seat belts and/or child restraint systems; 4.) use of non-school bus vehicles; and 5.) driver recruitment and retention.

NEBRASKA - Duane Schmidt (Director of Pupil Transportation, Department of Education) reported that transportation training materials were revised and new material was developed for beginning and veteran drivers. Schmidt said the state has developed a Website for student transportation.

Major issues: 1.) stop-arm violators; 2.) recruitment and retention of drivers; 3.) use of vans; and 4.) effectively and efficiently reducing transportation budgets.

NEW JERSEY - Linda Wells (Director, Office of Pupil Transportation, Department of Education) reported that her office is analyzing plans of local school boards to improve pupil transportation efficiency. She hopes to identify barriers to greater transportation efficiency. Wells also reported that the New Jersey Division of Motor Vehicles has begun an on-site school bus inspection program.

Major issues: 1.) encouraging school districts to improve their transportation efficiency by sharing services; and 2.) ensuring that all non-conforming vans are removed from service.

NORTH CAROLINA - Derek Graham (Section Chief, Transportation Services, Department of Public Instruction) reported that statewide routing software has been modified to print warning messages such as "Blind Curve" or "RRX" in the drivers' instructions. He added that the state received funding from NHTSA to do additional work in the area of stop-arm violation prevention.

OREGON - Deborah Lincoln (Director of Pupil Transportation, Department of Education) reported that her office collaborated with the Department of Motor Vehicles on a pre-trip inspection training video for new drivers. She added that her office converted database software last year, changing from Alpha 5 to Microsoft Access. She said Access is more powerful and allows import of data from school districts.

Major issues: 1.) driver shortage; and 2.) overcrowded school buses.

PENNSYLVANIA - Steve Madrak (Manager, Special Driver Program, Department of Transportation) reported that legislation that would ban pre-standard buses from use as passenger vehicles is advancing.

Major issues: 1.) illegal passes of buses; 2.) seat belts on school buses; 3.) pre-standard buses; and 4.) non-conforming vans.

SOUTH CAROLINA - Donald Tudor (Director of Transportation, Department of Education) reported that the Department of Education, in cooperation with the Department of Public Safety, developed a public service announcement program for school bus safety that includes TV and radio spots, billboards and posters. The department also developed a database to track school bus-related accidents and fatalities associated with school bus transportation. Tudor said the state will require that all school districts offer full-day kindergarten in the 1999-2000 school year. No additional transportation funding was provided.

Major issues: 1.) state funding for general maintenance and operations is anticipated to be $3 million short of fiscal year 1999 expenditures; 2.) driver shortage; 3.) no state-recognized fleet replacement schedule; and 4.) after more than 20 years of fleet reductions, the state is now faced with the need of additional school buses.

SOUTH DAKOTA - Dennis Johnston (Director of Pupil Transportation, Department of Education) reported that some progress has been made to discourage use of 10- to 15-passenger vans. He said materials provided by national pupil transportation organizations and federal agencies prompted the Department of Education and Cultural Affairs to more aggressively discourage schools and contractors from using non-conforming vans.

TENNESSEE - James Abernathy (Executive Director, Financial/Auxiliary Services, Department of Education) reported that the state enacted more restrictive regulations relative to overload permit/waivers on school buses.

Major issues: 1.) use of vans; and 2.) limiting number of students transported on school bus to vehicle's rated capacity.

TEXAS - Sam Dixon (Program Administrator, School Transportation, Texas Education Agency) reported that the mandatory 20-hour basic training course for school bus drivers is being updated and should be complete by September 1999. Dixon also reported that the Department of Public Safety is adopting administrative rules for the placement of ads on school buses.

Major issues: 1.) seat belts; 2.) advertising on school buses; 3.) driver shortages; and 4.) passenger van and mass transit use.

UTAH - Brent Huffman (Pupil Transportation Specialist, State Office of Education) reported that the state has developed a new certified training program and standards book.

Major issues: 1.) use of vans; 2.) driver training; and 3.) bus standards.

VERMONT - Robert King (Program Specialist, Department of Motor Vehicles) reported that the state is working toward requiring stop arms to be equipped with either strobe lights or LED lights that spell "STOP." "We feel strongly that both of these add significantly to the visibility of the stop arm over conventional bulbs," he said. King also said that the state's Commissioner of Education appears to support the creation of a state director position.

Major issues: 1.) illegal passing of stopped school buses and 2.) route hazard and evaluation.

VIRGINIA - Barbara Goodman (Associate Director of Pupil Transportation, Department of Education) reported that a new program called "Polaris" was implemented. It is an automated crash reporting system with access through the Internet. Goodman also said that legislation was passed that allows nurse practitioners to perform and record the results of the school bus driver physical.

Major issues: 1.) driver shortage; 2.) insufficient number of Department of Education staff to offer technical assistance to school districts; 3.) cooperative solutions to disruptive behavior and consistency in administering punishment; and 4.) lack of knowledge and skills of those responsible for arranging and transporting students with disabilities.

WASHINGTON - Roger Eastman (Pupil Transportation Director, Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction) reported that the state's school bus driver certification program is now maintained on a Website with updates and driver status reported directly online. Eastman also reported that his office is developing a visual GIS database using GPS coordinates.

Major issues: 1.) operations funding; 2.) driver shortage; and 3.) drivers who fail to continue to meet the minimum requirements for school bus drivers due to serious traffic violations in their personal vehicles.

WEST VIRGINIA - Wayne Clutter (Director of School Transportation, Department of Education) reported that transportation regulations are being revised and that an audit of the transportation program has been authorized and will be completed by MGT of America.

Major issues: 1.) amount of time children spend on buses; and 2.) safety at loading and unloading areas.

WYOMING - Leeds Pickering (Program Manager-Pupil Transportation, Department of Education) reported that a state Supreme Court ruling prompted the state legislature to mandate a study of pupil transportation, resulting in proposed standards for school bus construction, operations and purchases.

Major issues: 1.) new rules for the construction and operation of school buses; 2.) funding of transportation at 100 percent.

Related Topics: conferences, NASDPTS

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