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, www.fmcsa.dot.gov/saferbus. If you don’t have an iPhone or iPad, you can access the safety database at http://ai.fmcsa.dot.gov/sms.
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.
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.