As we all know, the yellow school bus provides the safest form of surface transportation. It’s no surprise, then, that some school agencies in the United Kingdom are looking long and hard at the possibility of adopting a U.S. model of school transportation, including the yellow school bus (modified to ride on the left side of the road, of course). For details, see “Britain mulls use of yellow school bus.” But it’s more than the vehicles that make our school transportation programs so successful. CDL requirements, stringent driver training, mandatory drug/alcohol testing, criminal background checks — all of these contribute to an enviable level of safety that is unmatched around the world.
A school bus superpower
We should be proud of our accomplishments. The United States is a world superpower in many ways, including the efficiency and safety of its school transportation. But we shouldn’t be satisfied with the status quo. And we’re not. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is wrapping up a two-year study of occupant protection on school buses and expects to issue a report in the late fall or early winter. Although we can speculate on the outcome (many believe a three-point restraint system will be recommended), we can be sure that school buses are already very safe and any improvements will be icing on the cake. There’s still more that can be done to improve school transportation safety, however. We need to continue to peck away at state laws that allow the use of nonconforming vans to transport students to and from school or school-related activities. Having said that, we should congratulate Lisa and Michael Strebler, who were able to push through legislation in South Carolina that will eventually force all public and private schools and child-care centers in the state to retire their nonconforming vans. The Streblers championed the bill, now called Jacob’s Law, despite stiff opposition from private schools and child-care centers, who argued that they couldn’t afford to buy school buses to replace their existing vans. Because of their concerns, a compromise was reached, giving schools and child-care centers until 2006 to retire any existing nonconforming vans. But the good news is that they can no longer legally buy these vehicles.
Status can be enhanced
As you probably know, the Streblers lost their 6-year-old son Jacob in an accident six years ago. He was riding in a 15-passenger van owned by a private school on July 12, 1994, when it was struck by an 18-wheeler that ran a red light. Jacob was killed. An engineer hired by the Strebler’s lawyers concluded that Jacob would have survived the crash if he had been riding in a school bus. In the wake of the accident, the Streblers collected a $1 million settlement from the company that owned the truck and undisclosed settlements from the school and the dealer that sold the nonconforming van to the school. They’ve used this money to lobby nationwide against the use of 15-passenger vans. This tragedy — and the subsequent legal settlements — has sounded a wake-up call to many schools and child-care centers still operating nonconforming vans. The sale of small buses has expanded tremendously over the past few years. But more needs to be done. According to Fact Book research by SCHOOL BUS FLEET, more than a dozen states allow the use of nonconforming vans for transportation to and from school and even more allow their use for activity trips. If we want to elevate our status as a school transportation superpower, every state needs to prohibit the use of these vehicles.