Southeastern conference takes on pressing safety, security and regulatory issues

Posted on September 1, 2004

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. — Delegates from 14 states gathered for the 54th Annual Southeastern States Pupil Transportation Conference (SESPTC), where safety and training were the key issues.

Charlie Gauthier, executive director of the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services, and Mike Martin, executive director of the National Association for Pupil Transportation, led a dual presentation on hot topics at the national level.

Gauthier highlighted the importance of evacuation drills with a reminder of the 2001 incident in Omaha, Neb., in which a school bus plummeted 49 feet into a creek. "Many of those students didn't ride school buses to school each day, so they hadn't received the mandated emergency evacuation training," Gauthier said. "Transportation directors must initiate evacuation drills for all students being transported on school buses."

The use of non-conforming vans for transporting students was another pressing issue. Although the use of 15-passenger and other multi-seated vans has quickly become an anomaly because of the intrinsic danger associated with the vehicles, there are districts that continue to use them, Gauthier said. "These districts are in the minority and face a strong possibility of litigation."

Martin issued updates on rules from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). The good news, Martin said, was that while one-third of entry-level commercial drivers were inadequately trained in other sectors, such was not the case with school bus drivers.

The FMCSA established standards for mandatory training requirements on four specific topics for entry-level operators of commercial motor vehicles required to hold or obtain a CDL. This action responds to a study that found private-sector training of entry-level drivers in the heavy truck, motorcoach and school bus industries was inadequate. Martin emphasized that the final rule applied only to private school bus contractors traveling across state lines.

Martin discussed other issues under development, including significant revisions to CDL training manuals and test questions, and the requirement that drivers take CDL testing in the type of vehicle they will drive. Specific knowledge of loading and unloading and highway rail-grade crossing will also be required under new FMCSA rules.

Other notable sessions included California state pupil transportation director John Green's spellbinding presentation on security and emergency preparedness. The talk focused on the vulnerabilities of school transportation to terrorist attacks.

"If you want to strike fear and terror in the community, you go after the kids," said Green. He also addressed system security, which is the use of operating principles to reduce the security vulnerabilities of a passenger transportation system to the lowest practical level.

SESPTC drew 215 delegates and approximately 60 exhibitors this year. Next year's conference is scheduled for Charlotte, N.C., July 10-13.


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