SPRINGBROOK TOWNSHIP, Pa. — Officials at the North Pocono School District are considering installing rear underride guards on their school buses in the wake of a Jan. 12 rear-end collision that killed two teenage motorists on their way to school. Driver Ashley Williams, 17, and her sister Erin, 15, were en route to North Pocono High School when their car struck the back of a school bus that was stopped to load passengers. The windshield of the car collided with the bus’ rear bumper, tearing back the roof of the car and causing fatal injuries to the two girls. Police believe the accident may have resulted from Ashley being temporarily blinded by the sun. Federal law has mandated installation of rear underride guards on all trailers and certain trucks manufactured in the United States since 1998, but does not require them on school buses. In response to the Springbrook Township accident, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (DOT) opened an informal investigation into the use of rear underride guards. Officials in 23 states provided the Pennsylvania DOT with information on their state policies within the first week. “Of the responses that we’ve received to date, none of them have underride guard recommendations in place,” said DOT spokesperson Joan Zlogar. The investigation was aimed at gathering information, rather than at creating an equipment recommendation, she said. “We’ll always evaluate safety issues, but at this point, there’s no firm plan in place.”
TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. — A 15-year-old boy was struck and killed by his own school bus when he exited the vehicle at his stop in early February. Brian Burdett, a student at Twentynine Palms High School, got off the bus with three other students. According to witnesses, he bent down for an unknown reason and was struck and killed as the bus pulled away. The California Highway Patrol, the State Department of Education and several other agencies are investigating the incident in this town about 150 miles east of Los Angeles. According to John Green, California’s director of pupil transportation, both agencies took pictures of the mirror system on the bus and gathered all of the evidence they could from the scene. Preliminary reports say that Brian’s parents were waiting for him across the street from the bus stop when the accident occurred. “It has not been determined yet whether this was an approved crossing,” said Green. In California, bus drivers are required to escort students across the street up until the eighth grade. Brian was in the ninth grade. “I’m a firm believer that if that had been the policy for high school students also, this young boy would probably not have been run over,” said Green, who lobbies, unsuccessfully, every couple of years to extend the crossing requirement to high school students. California’s last danger-zone fatality was in the 1995-96 school year, committed by a passing motorist. Green cannot remember the last by-own-bus fatality in the state. He says his department has a zero tolerance for these kinds of incidents. “If you think the NTSB gets involved in an accident — we’re going to be all over this, to make sure we didn’t miss something in our training. If it’s something that we could have prevented or assisted in or done a better job at, we are going to take care of business,” said Green.
CHICAGO — Navistar International Corp. reported a first-quarter loss of $35 million, or 58 cents a share. The manufacturer of school buses, trucks and diesel engines has decreased its forecast for year 2001 school bus sales from 32,000 units to 28,000 units. Company representatives said it’s too early to know when business might rebound, but that they hope the company’s alliance with Ford and the introduction of its new high-performance truck will help boost its economic outlook. “As we look through the year, if the economy stabilizes, even at the level it’s at now, we would expect to make money this year,” Navistar Chairman John Horne said in a statement.