FMCSA aims for tougher CDL requirements
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has issued a proposed ruling that would make the licensing and sanctioning requirements for a commercial driver's license (CDL) stricter. The proposal includes a rule establishing a new school bus endorsement for CDL drivers. To get the school bus endorsement, drivers would have to demonstrate competency in loading and unloading, emergency evacuation, railroad crossings and more. "It tests potential school bus drivers in the vehicle and for the tasks required of a school bus driver and not for tasks required of a coach or transit bus driver," explained Ted Finlayson-Schueler, executive director of the Pupil Transportation Safety Institute in Syracuse, N.Y. Prospective school bus drivers, however, would still have to take the written passenger endorsement test, which includes questions on handling other commercial vehicles. Some of the concepts covered on this test, says Finlayson-Schueler, run counter to the lessons taught to school bus drivers. "Obviously, this is a confusing situation for driver and trainer," said Finlayson-Schueler. The proposed rulemaking does not eliminate the problem many school bus operators were hoping it would solve — applicants accepting free CDL training from school bus operators and leaving to make more money in the trucking, motorcoach or transit industries. According to Finlayson-Schueler, "If the outcome of this regulation does not plug the hole that employees are driving through to other industries, it will simply have made it more time-consuming for a driver to receive a CDL because they will have to take an additional written test." In addition to establishing a school bus endorsement, the proposal seeks to increase the number of possible violations against drivers, expand the driver records check to take into account all previously held licenses in all states and disqualify all drivers after their first conviction of driving while suspended or causing a fatality. The proposed regulation would empower the FMCSA to authorize emergency grants for states that need help in complying with the new requirements. It would also allow the organization to withhold funding from states that do not comply. The complete proposed rulemaking can be downloaded at SCHOOL BUS FLEET's Web-site. Just go to www.schoolbusfleet.com/govres_5.cfm. Written comments on this proposed rulemaking should be submitted by Oct. 25. Comments may be submitted electronically at http://dmses.dot.gov/submit. Requirements for a school bus endorsement
According to the FMCSA's proposed rulemaking, an applicant would have to pass the following tests to receive a school bus endorsement: 1. Passenger vehicle endorsement test.
2. Knowledge test — covering procedures for loading and unloading, emergency evacuation and railroad crossing.
3. Skills test — behind-the-wheel test in school bus of the class you will drive.
Exceptions — At the state's discretion, the skills test can be waived if the ap-plicant is a CDL-certified, experienced school bus driver with a good driving record who meets certain criteria outlined in the proposal.
New laws for 2001-02 school year
In some states, the start of the 2001-02 school year brings into effect new laws involving pupil transportation. We polled members of the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS) about legislative, regulatory and administrative changes in their respective states. Here are some of their replies: Alaska
At press time, the state was expected to adopt the 2000 National Specifications and Procedures — with local amendments — as Alaska Minimum Standards. Over the summer, a public comment period was held.
Submitted by Joe Precourt Delaware
SB 124 expanded the application of the law against passing a school bus that's loading or unloading children. Previously, the law only applied on public roadways. Now the law applies no matter where the bus is stopped to load or unload passengers.
Submitted by Ron Love Indiana
On July 1, legislation was approved that requires schools and childcare centers to transport children using only school buses or special-purpose buses that meet federal school bus construction standards. Both non-conforming vans and vehicles with a capacity of 10 or fewer passengers that are already in use may continue to be used to transport children until June 30, 2006.
Submitted by Pete Baxter Minnesota
State lawmakers authorized a pilot project that will allow non-CDL drivers to drive Type A-II school buses (GVWR of 10,000 lbs. or less) under certain conditions. The provision is intended to increase safety by putting students in school buses rather than Type III vehicles such as cars, station wagons and vans with a maximum seating capacity of 10 persons, including the driver. Lawmakers also changed fee restrictions to allow school districts to charge students who live less than two miles from school for transportation services.
Submitted by Bob Fischer New Mexico
Effective July 1, school districts must negotiate with charter schools to provide transportation to eligible students. Transportation services are confined within the limits established by the school district in conjunction with the charter school.
Submitted by Gilbert Perea New York
On July 1, Project SAVE legislation took effect, requiring all school bus moni-tors, attendants and aides hired by a public school district, BOCES, charter school or school bus contractor to be fingerprinted and undergo federal and state criminal history checks prior to beginning employment.
Submitted by Marion Edick North Carolina
Car rental agencies in North Carolina must now notify all customers of the state's school bus stop-arm law. The measure was signed into law on Aug. 2 by North Carolina Gov. Michael Easley. It requires the Department of Motor Vehicles to develop a one-page description of the state's school bus stop-arm law and to make it available through the Internet to car rental agencies. In addition to English, it will be published in Spanish, French, German and Japanese.
Submitted by Derek Graham South Carolina
Beginning in October, the state will offer two school bus-related CDLs — both a restricted CDL license and a school bus endorsement for those drivers who have or want a full CDL. Part of this same regulation requires that all CDL medical exams be performed by a physician. Later in the 2001-02 school year, the state will implement a school bus driver physical performance test similar to existing programs in Oregon and New York.
Submitted by Donald Tudor Texas
SB 1671 authorizes school districts to issue voter-approved general obligation bonds to purchase new school buses. Although a funding policy has not yet been adopted by the Texas Education Agency, SB 833 allows parents to designate a child care facility instead of the student's legal residence for school trans-portation purposes. The law took effect Sept. 1.
Submitted by Sam Dixon and Charley Kennington
School bus occupant fatalities match 10-year high in 2000
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Seventeen school bus occupants were killed in crashes last year, up from 10 fatalities in 1999, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's National Center for Statistics and Analysis. The data was included in a report called "Motor Vehicle Traffic Crash Fatality and Injury Estimates for 2000." Meanwhile, the number of school bus occupants injured in crashes in 2000 was estimated at 11,000, up from 10,000. To read the report, click on www.nhtsa. dot.gov/people/ncsa and download the file "2000 Early Assessment."
Dispatcher promotes safety through rhyme
SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Last winter, Syracuse City School dispatcher Carlos Reese would get on the school district's base radio and recite a short safety rhyme for bus drivers and children to enjoy. The messages aired around 8:30 a.m. each day and consisted of safety tips and words of encouragement. The messages were not very well received at first. However, Reese persisted with the daily presentations and found that people began to quiet down and listen when the rhyme began. "He would get on the radio in the morning and put his heart and soul into it," says Judy Clarke, director of transportation for the Syracuse school district. "At first, it was met with various forms of eye rolling from the drivers and kids on our school buses, but they are into it now." "I knew I would win them over," comments Reese. He recites a new message almost every day, and, according to Clarke, if he is too busy for it, everyone is disappointed. Now secondary school kids, who don't have the opportunity to hear Reese's talents, are asking for safety rhymes on their buses. "I do whatever it takes. Sometimes I even sing to them," says Reese. Reese says that he started the routine to give drivers something to focus on each day, especially when things aren't going right. His goal is to get their attention back on the road and the safety of the children. "I want to break the monotony of the everyday hustle and bustle of driving," he says. After getting off to a shaky start, the safety message readings have become a staple on Syracuse City school buses. Now, students and drivers are submitting readings of their own to be heard each morning. Reese plans to continue the program and hopes to get more contributions from other people. "I would like to expand it and get the children more involved to see what is on their minds and how they respond to school bus safety," says Reese. The following are samples of Carlos Reese's daily safety rhymes: The moment we enter our bus for the day / Pre-trip for safety, do it the right way / And when you return, post-trip it too / Cause minimizing breaks begins with you. Don't forget to check your bus / For sleeping kids and other stuff / Be cau-tious, be careful as you drive / Spring is here, arrive alive.
NHTSA compiles school bus recall info
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has compiled a list of all safety recalls involving school buses for June 1996 through June 2001. The list can be accessed at NHTSA's Website at the following address: www.nhtsa.dot.gov/people/injury/buses/schoolbusrecalls.htm
Question of the month
Should there be a zero-tolerance policy for school bus drivers who test positive for drugs and/or alcohol, even if it's their first offense? From the Forum at www.schoolbusfleet.com/forum Drivers must set an example
Violating the law at the potential expense of a child is unconscionable. If a person takes a job as a school bus driver, they know the weight of their responsibility. To take substances that impair their judgement for an hour, a day, a week or longer is a blatant disregard for the responsibility they are charged with. Zero tolerance in schools for the kids should also equate to zero tolerance for those who represent the school system. Lead by example, not excuses. Kimber Rau, driver instructor
San Ramon Valley (Calif.) USD
Drug use requires treatment
Drug and alcohol addiction is a disease. Let's all agree to that. But when someone has cancer, everyone feels sorry for the person and tries to help him. If he is a bus driver, the employer works with the doctor to assure he is safe to drive a bus full of children. If he isn't, they try to find him another position, such as attendant. The employee with a drug or alcohol problem, however, is looked at differently. Often, fellow employees shun him, and the employer dismisses him. This occurs just when he needs everyone's help the most. Remember, drug and alcohol addiction is a disease! Michael Lunsford, transportation director
Loudoun County Public Schools
Prescription drugs are risky
My company has a zero-tolerance drug and alcohol policy. It doesn't matter if a failed test results from alcohol or cough syrup. A blood-alcohol content over the limit means you are under the influence. If a driver is under the influence, he or she should not be transporting anything, let alone children. If you are sick, don't go to work. If you choose to go to work, make sure your doctor understands the physical, mental and emotional requirements of your occupation and prescribes medicine that is appropriate for people who are driving and operating heavy equipment. Mark Obtinario, owner
Castle Rock, Wash.
Zero tolerance is the only way
I am an adamant supporter of a zero tolerance policy for school bus drivers who test positive for alcohol or drugs. Obtaining a CDL requires not only skill, but a commitment to safe operation on the part of the applicant. Drivers impaired by alcohol or drugs have not only broken the law, but have also lost their commitment to their profession. There should be no second chance. As a transportation manager, I have a responsibility to students and parents to hire the most skilled drivers possible — those who are drug and alcohol free. That's my commitment, and it will not be compromised by a school bus driver whose commitment does not mirror my own. Thus, one positive test and you're no longer employed. I don't want to be the one to try to explain to parents why their child was riding on a school bus with a drug- or alcohol-impaired driver. Darnese Nicholson, transportation manager
Federal agency cites bus company
WASHINGTON D.C. — A federal investigation brought on by a fatal motorcoach accident found a Boston tour company in violation of 14 safety regulations. The infractions against Kristine Travel and Tour were related to on-the-road hours of drivers, driver qualifications, maintenance of vehicles, drug and alcohol testing policies and several other operational problems. According to a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) report, the company received an "unsatisfactory" safety rating and was fined in late May. The FMCSA investigation also found problems such as incomplete or missing driver records, failure to abide by traffic enforcement laws and lack of medical certification of drivers. Currently, the company is operating under probationary status. In April, a Kristine motorcoach full of Boston middle school students flipped over on its way to a music competition in Canada, resulting in four fatalities and numerous injuries. The FMCSA investigation was conducted in response to this accident, but the findings were not limited to the events surrounding the crash.
Champions of top roadeo honored in Philadelphia
The following school bus drivers became the 31st winners of their vehicle class when they won the 2001 School Bus Driver International Safety Competition held during the National School Transportation Association's annual convention in Philadelphia. Conventional Class
1st — Jerry Kinney, Mason, Mich.
2nd — William Ralys, Deland, Fla.
3rd — Shirley Miller, Bacliff, Texas Transit Class
1st — David Martin, McMinnville, Ore.
2nd — Daniel Gilbreth, San Diego
3rd — Danilo Bernardo, North Las Vegas Small Bus Class
1st — Lawrence Hannon, Warminster, Pa.
2nd — John. R. Choffel Jr., Cochrantaon, Pa.
3rd — Jerry Hembree, Wichita, Kan.