Taking the bull by the horns in Colorado

Frank Di Giacomo, Publisher
Posted on April 1, 2002

“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” That’s one of the dozens of “Yogi-isms” attributed to Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra. In this case, he was making perfect sense. Yogi was giving directions to his home, which was situated in a cul-de-sac that could be reached by taking either path at a fork in the road. What’s my point? Sometimes you can get to the same destination by going down more than one path. That’s what is happening in Colorado, where the use of 15-passenger vans for school transportation is being challenged not by state lawmakers but by an insurance pool (see News Alert). Unwilling to wait for politicians to pass legislation prohibiting the use of non-conforming vans, the Colorado School Districts Self Insurance Pool (CSDSIP), which insures nearly three-quarters of the state’s 178 school districts, has strategically grasped the bull by the horns. Coverage restricted
In February, it voted to phase out coverage of 15-passenger vans for student transportation (while continuing to cover their use for non-passenger vocations). Beginning in July, the CSDSIP will not accept any newly purchased vans for coverage. Those vans already in use by the end of June will continue to receive coverage until Dec. 31, 2006, with a minimum surcharge of $1,500. On Jan. 1, 2007, the insurance group will no longer insure any non-conforming vans. This aggressive and proactive measure deserves much credit. It manages to reduce a significant risk to its members while not creating a huge financial burden. The lengthy phase-out period will help to soften the impact on its member school districts, which have more than four years to find a transportation alternative. Let’s hope they embrace the most obvious option: replacing their non-conforming vans with school buses. The cost differential is not significant when you factor in the buses’ greater longevity. Admittedly, school districts could opt to switch to a different carrier, one that will continue to insure non-conforming vans. But those odds are slim. Can you imagine what would happen if they did make that conversion, only to have one of these vans involved in an accident in which a passenger is severely injured or killed? A jury would not look kindly on a district that rejected the wisdom of its own risk management pool. Why laws aren’t changed
A few years ago, South Carolina lawmakers approved “Jacob’s Law,” which phased in a ban on the use of non-conforming vans for student transportation. The law is named after Jacob Strebler, a 6-year-old boy who was killed in 1994 while riding in a non-conforming van owned by his private school. Jacob’s parents, Lisa and Michael, were able to get the bill signed into law only after a long crusade and only with the backing of key lobbyists in the state. Passing such a law isn’t easy, you see, because special-interest groups, such as those who represent private schools, childcare centers and summer camps, do not want to bear the financial burden of replacing their vans with buses. According to our research, there are at least 18 states that allow the use of non-conforming vans for activity trips or home-to-school transportation. If insurance carriers begin to red-flag the insurability of these vehicles, perhaps lawmakers will be more inclined to question the wisdom of allowing them to ply the roads with children aboard. Let’s hope so.

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