News from the World of Pupil Transportation

Posted on April 1, 2000

International debuts its own conventional

An integrated school bus combining a chassis, body and engine manufactured by Chicago-based International Truck and Engine Corp. (formerly Navistar International) was unveiled in Tampa, Fla., in March. The Integrated Conventional (IC), as the bus is called, was designed using input from 1,500 bus drivers, fleet supervisors, school administrators, transportation directors, mechanics and passengers. “We listened to our bus customers and delivered an integrated bus with greater performance, ride and comfort,” said Tom Cellitti, vice president and general manager of the International Bus Vehicle Center. The IC boasts increased driver visibility through a lowered hood profile, an increased windshield size and a repositioned driver’s seat. For increased driver comfort, the door opener, switch panel, accelerator and brake pedals have been resituated. The IC also includes improved safety features, such as a built-in crossing arm, an extra-wide entry door, a fast warm-up device, longer-lasting brakes and the capability to do road speed limiting and self-diagnostics. The integrated bus is available with the International T 444E electronic smokeless diesel V-8, which provides a combination of low cost, driveability and compact size. Alternately, it is available with the International DT 466E clean- burning six-cylinder diesel engine. The IC will be manufactured in Conway, Ark., by American Transportation Corp., an International subsidiary. Along with its launch of the IC, the company announced the change of its operating company name to International Truck and Engine Corp. Company officials said the name of the holding company will remain Navistar International, but added that virtually all personnel will become employees of International Truck and Engine Corp. As part of the name change, the AmTran brand will disappear and all school buses manufactured in Conway and the new Tulsa, Okla., plant, which begins production in April 2001, will be branded with the International label.

No charges filed in fatal bus crash

ALBIN, Wyo. — No criminal charges will be filed against the driver of a snowplow that slammed into a school bus, killing two passengers, on Jan. 26 near Albin, Wyo. Brett Yuill, 8, and his sister Candace, 11, were killed in the accident, which took place when the snowplow, driven by 61-year-old Dennis Coffman, crossed the highway and sheared off most of the bus’ right side, where the children were seated. Coffman told investigators that he suddenly couldn’t steer the snowplow, which careened sideways into the oncoming bus. County officials said speed was not a contributing factor. The children’s brother, Brandon, 18, and the driver of the bus, Robert Anderson, were injured in the crash. Investigators said Anderson tried to steer the bus to the left of the oncoming snowplow and came within inches of averting contact altogether.

Virginia bus driver allegedly drunk

With more than 20 elementary school students onboard, a nine-year veteran driver for Virginia Beach Public Schools was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol and having an open container in the vehicle. Because the case involved schoolchildren, the driver may be charged with more than 20 counts of child endangerment, said police spokesman Don Rimer. Lisa Montgomery-Iovino, 37, was taking students home from Strawbridge Elementary School on March 13 when a parent called the district to report that she was driving erratically and skipping stops, said district spokeswoman Nancy Socia. Parents blocked the bus when it stopped, detaining it until police arrived. Law enforcement tests registered her blood alcohol level at .23. Socia said that half of the students on board were Montgomery-Iovino’s regular passengers and the other half were students from a different route, which she was asked to cover. Montgomery-Iovino was having trouble finding the students’ homes and asked the children to help her, finally pulling over to the side of the road, where a passing school bus driver offered her assistance. That driver later said that Montgomery-Iovino appeared to be in complete physical and mental control. “That’s the part that is so distressful,” said Socia. Not only did the passing driver not notice Montgomery-Iovino’s impairment, but the school site coordinator had also overlooked her condition when she picked-up the students. Bail for Montgomery-Iovino was set at $7,500, a price that will change if felony charges of child endangerment are filed, according to Rimer. “A couple of children were thrown about [on the bus] and possibly bruised,” he said. Evaluation of the effects of the incident on the children’s physical and mental states will be a part of the investigation. In addition, there is the possibility of legal action on the part of the parents, who, he said, are furious. A meeting, attended by more than 100 parents, was held by the school district the evening following the incident. According to Socia, this was not Montgomery-Iovino’s first such violation. “She had two previous charges against her. One was for being drunk in public and the other was for faulty brakes and improper control, which is reckless driving,” she said. Though company policy requires notification within 24 hours of a violation, Montgomery-Iovino did not report the charges. The district received notification of the reckless driving violation (the drunk in public charge was dropped) on March 2, but misinterpreted the notice and did not take disciplinary action with the driver. “We are at fault, and this could be a lesson for others,” said Socia. “We did overlook a very important part of that report.” Montgomery-Iovino, who was due to appear in court on April 11, has been suspended from her position without pay, pending completion of the investigation. “We don’t immediately terminate somebody,” said Socia. “By law, we must allow for due process.”

Cell phone campaign improves bus safety

A transportation director in northeast Alabama has found a way to equip his school buses with an emergency communication system — for $8 per vehicle. Tony Simmons, transportation director at Marshall County Board of Education, said none of his 88 regular-education buses were equipped with two-way radios, which caused him concern in the event of a medical emergency or breakdown in the rural area. “We looked into installing two-way radios, but it was cost-prohibitive,” Simmons said. To solve the problem, he launched a campaign within the community to collect deactivated cell phones. Although they can’t be used for standard calls, these phones still will connect for 911 purposes. To his surprise, Simmons garnered more than 100 phones, more than enough to supply his entire fleet. “And people are still bringing them in,” he said. To power the phones, he had $8 adapter plugs installed in each bus. “It’s worked out real well,” Simmons said.

Book readings help drivers bond with passengers

Reading from books purchased with their own money, bus drivers from Creighton Elementary School District helped kindergarten, first- and second-grade students celebrate Dr. Seuss’ birthday and the Read Across America Program. In a program spawned by driver and attendant interest, lead drivers read to students aboard their school buses at eight district schools. “Where are we going?” some students were heard to say as they boarded the bus, unaware that they were in for a different type of journey. More than just an exercise in reading, this was a means of bonding with the students, said Cathy Erwin, driver trainer and organizer of the event. “It showed the kids that we are more than just drivers — that we are educated people with more to our lives than just looking into that mirror above the seat.” Erwin said that the project was such a big success with students and teachers that they are thinking of lengthening the program next year. This year, drivers read in 20-minute intervals to three different classes of students at each school — a total of one hour at each site. For next year’s event they likely will recruit more drivers to read and expand the program to 90 minutes in length, Erwin said. Another change may be a shift to slightly older students who have longer attention spans. An added benefit of the program is the positive publicity it earns the district and the industry. With school bus accidents making headline news, Erwin said, every little bit of positive publicity helps. Thanks to Erwin’s efforts, Creighton’s program received a write-up in a section of the local paper that will be distributed statewide. “Any time we can do something in a positive light, it helps to counteract the negative publicity,” she said.

Tennessee drivers average less than 4 hours

The average school bus driver in Tennessee works 3.85 hours a day and earns between $11.67 and $13.73 per hour, according to a recent survey conducted by the Tennessee Association for Pupil Transportation (TAPT). The TAPT received responses from 75 school districts, including 66 that run their own buses and nine that have a mixture of public and privately operated vehicles. (Twenty-nine school districts did not respond to the survey.) The starting hourly wage for drivers ranges from $7.50 to $18.85 and averages $11.67. The top hourly rate ranges from $7.50 to $22.53 and averages $13.73. Sixty-one of the districts offer their drivers four hours or fewer per day, while 13 offer five or more. Two districts — Knox County Schools and Davidson County — offer drivers eight hours per day. One district, Alcoa City, reported that it pays drivers for nine hours a day. Only 12 of the 75 districts reported that they do not pay for the drivers’ physicals. Meanwhile, 16 of the districts pay drivers during their pre-service training, while 37 pay for some or all of the drivers’ health coverage. The average fleet size of the respondents is 67.7 buses. The smallest fleet operates four buses; the largest fleet, Davidson County, runs 508 buses.

Laidlaw is equipping entire fleet with electronic child-check system

Laidlaw Transit Inc. is equipping its fleet of 40,000 school buses in North America with a device to help prevent drivers from leaving a child behind. Laidlaw began its $1.2 million program to equip buses with an electronic child-check system early in the 1999-2000 school year. It expects that all of its fleet will be retrofitted with the device by September. “It’s another tool that can be used to ensure the safety of the kids,” said Bill Koch, a spokesman for Laidlaw Education Services in Naperville, Ill. “But it still takes the driver checking in and under the seats to make sure that the bus is empty.” Laidlaw chose the Child Check-Mate System, which requires drivers to push a button at the back of the bus after every run. The button deactivates an alarm that will automatically ring shortly after the key is removed from the ignition. If that alarm is not turned off, the bus’ horn will begin to sound to signal that the bus needs to be checked. Bob Moran, president of Child Check-Mate Systems, said the device is easy to install and programmable, allowing operators to modify the preferences. For more information, visit the Website: In the past several months, there have been numerous incidents of drivers abandoning children on school buses. Baltimore County Schools is pilot testing the Child Check-Mate System after three children were left on buses in a six-week span. In buses not equipped with the device, Laidlaw drivers are required to walk to the back and place a placard marked “empty” in the rear window after each run. Terminal managers walk the lot to ensure that the placard is visible in every bus.

Device automatically sets brake when service door is opened

A device that automatically sets the air brakes on a school bus when the service door is opened and releases the brake when the door is closed has drawn positive comments from two Texas school districts. The PED-Lok system, developed by Safety Systems & Controls in Houston, is being tested at Dickinson Independent School District and Spring Branch Independent School District. The PED-Lok was installed on an 83-passenger bus in Dickinson in 1997. “We haven’t had any complaints from the drivers or any mechanical problems,” said Aaron Hobbs, Dickinson’s assistant transportation director. Hobbs said the device has reduced the chances of repetitive motion injuries to drivers, who normally would have to set and release the air-brake knob at each bus stop. “The only problem we have is that the rest of the fleet doesn’t have it,” he said. Sheryl Lancaster of Spring Branch Independent School District said she likes the simplicity of the device. “All you have to do is open the door,” she said. The driver who has the device installed on her bus “loves it,” Lancaster said. “I haven’t seen any drawbacks yet.” The list price for the device is $350 to $400, according to Chris Webre, president of Safety Systems & Controls. He said the device can be retrofitted in three hours. Webre said some states have approved regulations requiring drivers to set their parking brakes for each loading and unloading of students. Because this would require an expenditure of effort at each stop, even those where only one child is picked up or dropped off, it’s uncertain whether the drivers are obeying the regulation. The PED-Lok, Webre said, avoids this potential problem by automating the brake-setting. “It’s just a way to make sure that it happens every time,” Webre said.

College van use draws closer scrutiny

A spate of crashes involving 15-passenger vans used by colleges for school-sponsored activities resulted in five deaths and 28 injuries, prompting college officials to reconsider their transportation policies. Five serious accidents took place within a two-month period beginning in late December. The worst crash occurred Feb. 10, when a van carrying Prairie View A&M track athletes rolled on a Texas state highway. Four people were killed and six injured in the crash. Fifteen-passenger vans are a popular mode of transportation for colleges and universities, but they lack the crashworthiness and occupant protection of buses. Budgetary restrictions make it difficult, however, for colleges to replace their vans with school bus-type vehicles or to charter buses. “I would hope that if any good would come out of this, it would be that people would review their travel policies,” Dan Dutcher, chief of staff for NCAA Division III schools, told the Washington Post. Last June, the National Transportation Safety Board issued a report urging all states to ban the use of non-conforming vans, like those with a 15-passenger capacity, for any school, childcare or Head Start purposes.

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