As we approach the end of the 20th century, I’m encouraged by a school transportation safety development that seems to be gaining momentum at a national, state and local level. What I’m referring to is the decision by many school districts, private schools, day-care centers and Head Start agencies to replace their non-conforming vans with school buses. Manufacturers of small school buses tell me that sales of these units are up, way up. That’s good news for an industry that stakes its reputation on safety. It’s also a sensible, fiscally sound move for any organization transporting children to school or school-related activities. Although school buses may cost more than passenger vans, they are built for longer life. Over the long haul, they are the cost-effective choice. Yes, I know. Passenger vans have the advantage of not necessarily requiring that the driver hold a CDL. This allows teachers, coaches and other school personnel to drive them, whereas school buses require a certified school bus driver to be at the wheel. This circumstance seems to favor the van as the more economical alternative. This is a misleading advantage. Although the services of a school bus driver may be more expensive than, say, a volunteer coach’s, the school bus driver — driving a school bus — is more likely to avoid an accident, particularly one that involves injuries. This keeps a district or contractor’s risk management costs down.
Safety is the bottom line
Of course, the most important consideration is safety. School buses provide children with the highest level of protection. It’s an added benefit that their use also protects school operators from the sky-high liability exposure that comes with operating non-conforming vans. This transition to the school bus should be helped along by a recent report and safety recommendation by the National Transportation Safety Board. The safety board studied four accidents involving non-conforming buses and, on the basis of its findings, urged governors of the 50 states and the District of Columbia to require that all vehicles carrying more than 10 passengers and transporting children to and from school and school-related activities meet school bus structural standards.
Tragedies tell the story
For those of you who haven’t read the NTSB report, here’s a brief summary of the crashes. You might want to share these with anyone you know who’s still operating non-conforming vans.