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June 21, 2012  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

NHTSA's David Strickland: school bus defender

On David Strickland’s watch, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has publicly supported the safety record of the yellow bus and has launched a campaign to promote ridership. In an exclusive interview with SBF, the administrator discusses these topics and reaffirms the agency’s decision to not mandate seat belts on large school buses.

by Thomas McMahon - Also by this author

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Strickland says that riding the school bus as a kid fostered friendships and independence.
<p>Strickland says that riding the school bus as a kid fostered friendships and independence.</p>

Strickland said that while states could mandate seat belts on large school buses in their jurisdictions, there is not a national mandate, nor would school buses be included in the rulemaking for motorcoaches.

“The reason is this,” Strickland told Butterfield in the hearing. “The safest form of transportation for children is a school bus. Period.”

The administrator went on to say that there are “a handful” of school bus rider deaths per year, most of which occur outside of the vehicle. He also cited the protection that compartmentalization provides for school bus occupants.

Going beyond safety
For all of his comments and focus on safety, Strickland identifies other benefits of the yellow bus — some not as easy to measure.

“I think there’s a number of things that the school bus provides; there are so many equities that are so valuable as we go into a modern era, especially of Generation Y younger kids living a digital lifestyle, being more and more separated,” he told SBF. “One nice thing about the school bus is it is sort of a notion of community for children that we can maintain, in addition to making sure that they get to school efficiently and safely every single day.”

The administrator also noted that riding the school bus can help children in forming “good transit habits and recognizing the fact that transit is a greener, capable way of getting yourself to places. I think it’s especially an important message these days as we go to a much more congested traffic environment.”

But Strickland’s admiration for the “humble yellow school bus” seems to reach beyond its benefits. 

“Maybe it’s in my blood,” he acknowledged.

In fact, Strickland’s grandfather worked in pupil transportation.

“He was a farmer in Wrightsville, Ga., but he drove a school bus,” Strickland said. “In my digital picture frame, there’s a picture that rotates through of my grandparents’ front porch, looking over the plants that are on the ledge. But in the distance is my grandfather’s school bus.”

Safe student transportation is a tradition that Strickland aims to protect.

“We at NHTSA are doing anything we can to be supportive,” he said, “and really assist localities in how we can keep the yellow school bus going.” 

Formative experience on the bus
Growing up and going to school in Atlanta, David Strickland had a long school bus ride. Strickland has said that he was bused across town about an hour and a half “because of the needs of diversity … to make sure that there were students of color across town.”

Despite those circumstances, he told SBF that riding the school bus fostered friendships and independence.

STRICKLAND: I took the bus from probably first grade all the way up through graduation. For me, the bus was something where I had time with my friends. It also gave me a sense of autonomy as a kid, too. You know, I had Mom dropping me off at the bus stop when I was a little kid in elementary school. But when you take the bus as a middle schooler and a teenager, you’re pretty much on your own schedule from your parents. You have to get yourself out to the bus every day — it’s your responsibility to get there.

For me as a school kid, I liked the bus. I thought it was a great opportunity to catch up with friends, to catch up with whatever video games were going on. It was a positive experience.

It’s also about the values not only from your parents about schooling, but the school itself. If the school puts priority on making sure the bus is a fun environment and a good environment, kids want to take the bus. I was blessed to have been at schools that really did want to make sure the bus environment was a very positive one.

School buses excluded from stability control proposal
Just before press time in mid-May, NHTSA proposed a new motor vehicle safety standard to require electronic stability control (ESC) systems on large commercial trucks, motorcoaches and some other large buses — but not school buses.

ESC systems have sensors that monitor vehicle movement and steering. They can help mitigate rollover incidents by using automatic computer-controlled braking, and they can aid the driver in addressing severe understeer or oversteer conditions that can lead to loss of control.

ESC technology has been mandated for cars and light-duty trucks, beginning with model year 2012.

NHTSA estimates that a standard requiring ESC on large trucks and large buses would prevent up to 2,329 crashes, eliminate an estimated 649 to 858 injuries, and prevent between 49 and 60 fatalities per year.

Along with school buses, transit buses are excluded from the proposed rule, which explains that in fatal crash data that were analyzed, “most of the transit bus and school bus crashes are not rollover or loss-of-control crashes that ESC systems are capable of preventing.”

However, the agency said that it “seek[s] comment on whether this proposal should be applied to the types of buses that are excluded from the proposed rule, such as school buses and transit buses.”

To view the proposal, click here.

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