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May 29, 2012  |   Comments (2)   |   Post a comment

When they don't go yellow

As a school transportation director, you may not be able to mandate that school buses be used for activity trips, but you can help ensure that safe motorcoach carriers are selected.

by Frank Di Giacomo - Also by this author


Whether or not you agree with the practice, the fact remains that motorcoaches are often used instead of school buses to transport students for sports, field trips and other activities.

You could rattle off reason after reason that school buses are the safest way to transport pupils, but some coaches or teachers may insist on a motorcoach for their group — probably with the vehicles’ enhanced comfort in mind.

Indeed, motorcoaches continue to be a highly popular way for the public to travel. According to the American Bus Association’s latest research, more than 700 million people traveled by motorcoach in 2009.

As a school transportation director, you may not be able to mandate that school buses be used for activity trips, but you can help ensure that safe motorcoach carriers are selected. There are resources available to that end.

App for safety
Most recently, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) unveiled its new SaferBus program, which is a quick and free way for the public to review bus companies’ safety records before booking trips.

The SaferBus application, for iPhones and iPads, can be downloaded for free from the Apple iTunes App Store or via the FMCSA’s “Look Before You Book” page, If you don’t have an iPhone or iPad, you can access the safety database at

SaferBus gives access to records on nearly 6,000 interstate commercial passenger carriers in the U.S. — private motorcoach, school bus and tour bus companies.

The information should be particularly helpful to school districts and schools that do use motorcoach companies for activity trips.

Preapproved carriers
FMCSA recommends using a list of prequalified bus companies for transporting students on activity trips. This can ensure uniformity throughout a state, county or school system.

Derek Graham, North Carolina’s state pupil transportation director, gave a presentation last fall on choosing safe motorcoach companies. As he noted, the issue is “too much to leave to the principal. They need leadership.”

North Carolina districts use lists of preapproved carriers, and the carriers aren’t allowed to subcontract out the school trips. Another key step when establishing a contract is ensuring that the company is providing the right number of drivers for the length of the trip. Pre-trip reviews should include checking drivers’ licenses and medical cards and looking over the basic condition of the motorcoach.

Most motorcoach carriers are committed to operating safely, keeping their fleet in top shape and following the many regulations that govern their industry — which overall has an exemplary safety record.

But, like in other types of business, there are operators on the fringes that disregard the rules and best practices — and sometimes end up with devastating accidents that could (and should) have been prevented.

For school systems, following the proper precautions will go a long way in ensuring that when their students are going motorcoach rather than going yellow, they’ll be in good hands.   

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Read more about: activity/field trips, motorcoach/charter buses

Unlike school buses, motor coaches don't provide adequate passenger protection from roof crush in rollovers or anti-ejection window glazing, rendering them unsafe for any pupil transportation. School administrators and parent groups should be informed of the risks when choosing motorcoaches for school activity transportation. Until all school buses and motor coaches are equipped with lap and shoulder belts, school transportation directors are not doing all they can do to protect the passengers for whom they are responsible.

Brad Brown    |    May 29, 2012 05:10 PM

As you mentioned there are pros and cons to the motor coach choice for long distant field trips. I was in the Marine Corp back in the late 70's and traveled back and forth from the west coast to Indiana on Greyhound bus lines. They were very comfortable and air conditioned. Your fleet of buses may not have air ride suspension or air conditioning. So if you don't I can understand why long trips that involves many hours of reaching a destination would best be completed on board motor coaches. If your fleet is on a bus replacement plan - which most are - spec out your newer buses with air conditioning and air ride systems. Air brakes are the safest brake system as far as I am concerned. Hydraulic brakes are fine but when you blow a brake line or blow out a brake caliper there goes your brakes. Air brakes are safe and economical to maintain when your preventative maintenance program in the maintenance shop is running on scheduled bus inspections. Blow an air brake line and you'll have enough time to pull over before your brakes finally set up which beats a failed hydraulic system anytime. So school buses are much more safer today than ever before. However, one of the reason as to why the school buses are safer today is, - and only you can testify to this for your own fleet of drivers - is that buses are safer because you employ the safest school bus drivers available. You know properly trained school bus drivers do not speed or tail-gate each other. The trip leaves on time so there is no need to speed. Several accidents that we all have seen on the CNN nationwide news coverage is usually related to speeding and tail-gating buses. Construction zones are usually always expected during good weather so utilize your State Police road reports through the States your trip is pre-planned for in advance. I can see if you have reservations about sending out school buses on long distant trips due to questionable drivers then yes - choose a motor coach company with a very safe reco

Dan Luttrell    |    May 29, 2012 04:32 PM

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