Public scrutiny of 15-passenger vans intensifies
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Questions about the safety of 15-passenger vans received national spotlight after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) held a press conference April 15 to reissue a cautionary warning to the users of these vans. Later that week, CBS' "60 Minutes II" ran an in-depth feature segment on the rollover risks of these vehicles.
In select crash studies, 15-passenger vans have been found to have a high rollover rate when transporting more than 10 passengers. According to NHTSA statistics of single-vehicle crashes involving a fatality, the vans rolled over 85 percent of the time when there were more than 10 occupants onboard. They rolled over only 38 percent of the time when carrying fewer than 10 passengers.
NHTSA re-emphasized the federal law that prohibits the sale or lease of 15-passenger vans for use in home-to-school transportation. The agency also made recommendations to organizations that are not barred from purchasing and using 15-passenger vans, such as colleges and church groups.
"It is vital that users of 15-passenger vans be aware of some safety precautions that will significantly reduce their risks," said Dr. Jeffrey Runge, administrator of NHTSA, in his speech at the news conference. Some of the safety tips outlined included selecting trained drivers, requiring seat-belt use, maintaining tires, ensuring drivers are well-rested and avoiding storage of anything on the van's roof.
Taking a more urgent approach, the "60 Minutes II" program used NHTSA statistics, accounts from relatives of van crash victims and statements from two engineers formerly employed by Ford Motor Company, the leading manufacturer of 15-passenger vans, to address the issue. The April 17 segment called 15-passenger vans "one of the most dangerous vehicles on the road."
Steve Jansen, director of transportation for La Petite Academy in Overland Park, Kan., is a spokesperson for transportation safety in the childcare industry, which relies heavily on 15-passenger vans for transportation. Jansen feels that the attention given to 15-passenger vans has been one-sided and that, if operated with the proper safety precautions and driver training, the vehicles can be a viable form of childcare transportation. "A lot of this is common sense," he said. "If you get hit by a tractor trailer broadside, people are going to get hurt, I don't care if you are transporting students in an anvil."
Several widely publicized 15-passenger van crashes have aggravated the ongoing van controversy. The most recent crash occurred on April 4 in Memphis, Tenn., when the driver of a childcare van and four children died after the van skidded off an interstate and crashed into a utility pole. Two others were seriously injured in the accident.
The National Transportation Safety Board is currently investigating the accident, but there are indications that it had nothing to do with the safety of the vehicle. Rather, the accident is likely the fault of the driver, who authorities said had marijuana in his possession.
Rae Tyson, spokesperson for NHTSA, said the 15-passenger van warning was not issued as a response to the Memphis crash. Rollover was not listed as a factor in the accident report. A complete consumer advisory is available at http://www.nhtsa.gov, including the potential dangers of vans as well as information about the federal law prohibiting 15-passenger van sales for school transport.
Jansen said he supports the federal prohibition but thinks that clarification of the law is needed. Right now, he said, "depending on who you talk to from state to state, you get a different interpretation of the law."
CASTO eyes important legislation
OAKLAND, Calif. — After a year of budget woes, emissions controversy and terrorist scares, the annual conference of the California Association of School Transportation Officials (CASTO) encouraged attendees to keep track of a number of state and federal legislative issues that will affect student transportation in the near future.
CASTO is watching the status of House Bill 2518 "The Clean Green School Bus Act of 2001," which will create a federal pilot program to fund $300 million for purchasing cleaner emitting school buses. CASTO is also following several state bills that deal with driver certifications, emissions control and state specifications of school buses. One of the major state bills supported by the association is Assembly Bill 2681 that will require school activity buses to be equipped at all designated seating positions with a lap-shoulder passenger restraint system.
The conference, held March 23-26, included a state agency panel with representatives from the highway patrol, department of education and department of motor vehicles to answer questions and provide updates on school bus legislation and other issues in California. CASTO officials also emphasized active attendance at local meetings and called for a greater understanding of students among industry professionals.
"We need to know how to communicate with children and know what bothers them," said Dano Rybar, CASTO president. To that end, workshops were offered on special-needs and early childhood transportation. The conference also offered sessions for instructors and trainers, managers and supervisors, mechanics and drivers.
Highlighting the driver workshops was a session titled "Effective Communication" presented by Pete Baxter, state director of pupil transportation for Indiana. The goal of the session, said Baxter, "is to teach the bus driver how to use body language, habit, mindsets and misdirected messages when interacting with pupils, parents or others in the performance of their duties."
Charlie Gauthier, executive director of the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS), gave a NASDPTS update and conducted a workshop on communicating with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). "The key to NHTSA finding out about school bus safety defects is the safety hotline," said Gauthier. "And the best source of information is mechanics." The hotline, which handles consumer complaints on vehicle safety problems, can be reached at 1-888-DASH-2-DOT.
CASTO's annual conference drew an estimated attendance of 1,000 people, and approximately 60 vendors displayed their products at the trade show. Next year's conference will be held in Ontario, Calif.
California Highway Patrol names School Bus Driver of the Year
REDWOOD SHORES, Calif. — Eileen Noonan of A & E Transportation Services in Foster City, Calif., has been named School Bus Driver of the Year for the state of California by the California Highway Patrol (CHP). The annual award honors those individuals who demonstrate exceptional moral character and provide service to the industry beyond the level expected of the average school bus driver.
Noonan has spent most of her 21 years in the industry training drivers. "That's my love, working with all the people and making sure they're ready to get their certificates," she said. "I do the behind-the-wheel and a lot of the classroom."
The CHP presented Noonan the award on April 23 (School Bus Driver Appreciation Day) at a banquet that drew notable guests from all over the state. "We had the Calif. State commissioner, assistant commissioner, John Green from DOE and Murray Esprey from DMV," said Noonan. "And then our drivers were there and people from my past and other companies that I had helped along the way."
Noonan, who was chosen from among 40,000 other nominees, says winning the award is an amazing experience. "It's beyond anything I could ever imagine," she said.
NHTSA publishes guide on stop-arm violations
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Passing a stopped school bus with red lights flashing and stop arms extended is a serious and widespread problem, according to the latest publication by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
The report, which is five years in the making, is a result of four NHTSA-sponsored demonstration programs aimed at identifying solutions to the stop-arm running problem. "The intent was to show what different approaches could be taken to address the stop-arm violation problem and to demonstrate what worked and what didn't work, and why," said the report.
The 88-page publication, "Best Practices Guide: Reducing the Illegal Passing of School Buses," includes a detailed analysis of the problem, a model solution to the problem, several real-life success stories and a list of resources. The guide is available in its entirety on the Web at www.nhtsa.org/people/injury/buses/2000schoolbus/index.htm
Trick photography not required for feat
This photograph was taken on March 13 after members of Thomas Built Buses' marketing and engineering staff decided to duplicate a feat performed by the company more than 35 years ago.
"The ad was inspired by an old photograph of two stacked Thomas conventionals that was taken in the mid 1960s," explained Allan Haggai, marketing manager for Thomas Built Buses. "We studied that old photo and thought it would be a great way to graphically show how well we build our Minotour Type A bus."
According to Haggai, the 18,000-pound Type D bus was hoisted on top of the Minotour without a problem. "We left them stacked for over three hours while photos and measurements were taken. The steel-cage body construction held up so well that all windows and doors still opened without binding. For safety, the slackened lift cables remained attached to the Type D bus. The photo was re-touched only to remove the cables for a more aesthetically-pleasing ad."
Bus operation pulls together for drivers battling cancer
KINTNERSVILLE, Pa. — On Feb. 8, Val Housworth, manager at First Student, received distressing news from driver Donna Lippincott. She had been diagnosed with lung cancer. Later that day, driver Grace Rosenberg announced that she too had lung cancer. One week passed and Sue Toal, who also drives a Palisades School District route for First Student, said she had been diagnosed with breast cancer.
"I was totally stunned," said Housworth. "It was very upsetting to everyone here, because they're not only your employees, they're also your friends."
Lippincott, 46, is a single mother without health insurance. "I asked [the doctors] if I could go back to work, and they said definitely not. I told them to fight this, please, I have a 5-year-old, fight this," she said to The Morning Call. Her fellow drivers heard her cry for help and many donated their personal day pay to Lippincott. Even Rosenberg handed over her two personal days to Lippincott. Altogether, she received about three paychecks' worth of money through donations, along with an additional $1,000 her coworkers raised. A fel-low driver's husband paid Lippincott's April rent.
Lippincott is amazed at their generosity. "They've given me time with my child, which now is more important than ever. They're like an army of angels," she said.
Rosenberg, who just received Driver of the Month, is touched by the support of her coworkers. "They're more or less like a family, not just a business," she said. Rosenberg couldn't work for one week in April because she was in the hospital, and afterwards owed insurance money that was supposed to have come out of her paycheck. A fellow driver came in to work, did a three-hour trip and donated the earnings to Rosenberg so she could pay her insurance that week, while still another driver donated a personal day to Rosenberg.
The bus operation has organized a few fundraisers for the three women. Employees sold refreshments and candy at the Pennsylvania Equine Open House in April. They also held a raffle that raised $3,700, with local businesses donating over 50 raffle prizes. Housworth said they are planning more fundraisers in the coming months.
The strength of these women has been awe-inspiring to the entire operation. "The girls in the office and I, we've discussed many times that the three women, with everything they've been through, their spirits are high. They're very upbeat," said Housworth.
Vigilant driver thwarts potential kidnapping
ALBANY, N.Y. — On the morning of April 29, Joseph Guirlain, driver for Stock Transportation, prevented a kidnapping by chasing away a man who was trying to abduct a young girl.
Arriving early at his first stop, Guirlain noticed in his rearview mirror a driver trying to pull a girl into a red Taurus. Guirlain knew something was suspicious when the girl ran from the car and the man pursued her. Guirlain jumped out of the bus and chased after the man, who got into his car and sped away.
Guirlain approached the girl, who told him she did not know the man. Guirlain called his dispatcher to report the incident and provide the perpetrator's description.
The timely rescue has garnered widespread attention. "People everywhere want to meet and thank me. They tell me that what I did was very important because a lot of children in this country have been lost and they haven't found them," said Guirlain.
FBI investigators met with Guirlain and informed him that two more attempted kidnappings involving the red Taurus occurred on the same day, and several more a couple of days later. The suspect remains at large.
At Stock Transportation, the incident raised awareness of the importance of training drivers to look for unusual circumstances in their surroundings.
"Joseph identified the unusual circumstances and then chose to get involved and scare the perpetrator away. As far as I'm concerned, that's what makes him a hero," said Melodie Monica, Stock's safety supervisor.
Question of the Month
Do you feel that a school bus driver strike is an effective way to improve wages, benefits or treatment? What are the alternatives? From the Forum at www.schoolbusfleet.com
Strikes hurt more than they help
When I drove for a major district in our area, our union representative was trying to get the school board to give us a 7 percent raise every year for three years. The board wanted to give us only 3.5 percent a year for three years. We had just suffered a major layoff at IBM here that year, and the local economy was hurting. No one could afford what the board wanted.
I remember the union rep asking me what I would do if they decided to take more pay away from us. I figured I probably couldn't have paid my taxes, fed my kids and afforded daycare if this were to happen. So I looked at him and said, "I'd find a better job that wasn't driving a bus." It stunned him. Then he asked if I'd strike, and I told him that I wouldn't. I had two toddlers to think about, and drivers at the time were a dime a dozen.
So I don't think striking is the way to go; compromise is. Sometimes you have to give a little to get the return.
Retired bus driver
Strikes should be last resort
I work for a school district where there have never been any walkouts or strikes. We try to treat our drivers as we would like to be treated. I feel that if a district or company does that, it won't have to resort to striking.
I agree that working for a contractor is much different than working for a school district. In most cases, working for a contractor, you're just a social security number. Working with a school district, we are more like family. Our children are our first priority.
There may be occasions where employees have to strike, and I'm not criticizing them if that is the last resort. But it all depends on the situation. If at all possible, I would try not to strike. I would vote that everyone work together as a team.
A greedy system is the problem
Why do school bus drivers ever consider striking? Because the school administration and the contracted service provider are unscrupulous groups who act together to balance the books by impoverishing drivers and destroying their careers. This drives the good and experienced driver out and replaces him with any bum who comes in the door. Any thought of the children's welfare is trashed in the drive to save a few bucks. When school districts contract out their drivers, they should know it's just business thereafter.
David G. Cobb
School bus driver
Strikes can be a positive outlet
A strike may be the only voice left for a unified group. Too often deals are hammered out that leave only a new bone for the working dogs to chew on. Let your administration realize that the cargo you carry is the most precious cargo any driver can haul. Quality people deserve quality settlements.
Lead Driver, KCI Head Start
PTSI releases Head Start pre-service training package
SYRACUSE, N.Y. — The Pupil Transportation Safety Institute (PTSI) has released its Final Rule Training Package for new Head Start drivers and monitors. The instruction provided in the 30-hour training program fulfills all of the driver and monitor training requirements of the Head Start Final Rule. "We wanted to provide Head Starts a simple-to-use training package that not only fulfills Final Rule regulations, but one that ultimately gives new drivers and monitors all the fundamentals for the safe operation of a Head Start bus," said Jim Ellis, curriculum development specialist for PTSI.
The training package, made up of 10 modules, includes a 175-plus-page trainer's guide, a CD PowerPoint presentation of more than 200 overhead transparencies, ten 96-page trainee workbooks and a set of full-color trainee certificates. "This training package accommodates a wide variety of learning styles and literacy levels, as well as different levels of experience with vehicles and children," said Ted Finlayson-Schueler, executive director of PTSI and co-author of the program.
The training package goes beyond Head Start transportation guidelines and also meets the Federal requirements for drug and alcohol training and Occupational Safety and Health Administration hazardous material training. "Head Starts have always been hungry to do things right and this package will give them the assurance that the training their new drivers and monitors receive is comprehensive, federally compliant and effective," said Kathy Furneaux, PTSI training specialist and co-author of the program.
For more information on the training program, go to www.ptsi.org or call (800) 836-2210.
Minnesota sets guidelines for flag displays on school buses
MINNESOTA — In the wake of the attacks of Sept. 11, patriotic school bus drivers across the United States have been displaying American flags on their buses, sometimes in violation of state statutes.
In Minnesota, American flags have been displayed on all areas of the school bus, including cloth flags attached to crossover mirrors, rear-view mirrors and in windows — including windshields, according to Capt. Ken Urquhart of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.
However, Urquhart points out that a Minnesota statute states in part that "only signs and lettering approved or required by state law may be displayed."
In an effort to allow school bus drivers and fleets to show patriotism, while not compromising safety, Urquhart developed the following standards for attaching the American flag on the outside of the school bus:
Flags must be decals. No cloth or plastic flags.
Flags must be mounted so the stripes are horizontal, not vertical.
Flag stripes must be straight, not waving.
Flags must be a maximum of 6 inches high, minimum 3 inches high; length shall be proportional.
Flags must be displayed on both the right and left side for proper etiquette, so two decals must be purchased.
Flags displayed on the bus must be the same size on the right side as on the left side.
Flags displayed on the right side of the bus must be reverse union (blue area to the front of the vehicle).
Flags must be installed in the beltline of the bus, centered vertically between the rub rails, or centered with the lettering in the beltline.
Flags must be mounted as far forward on the beltline as possible, and must have at least 2 inches of clearance from required identifying letters or numbers on the bus, and 2 inches of clearance from side signal lights if installed.
An alternative to placing the flag on the paint is to place the flag on the outside of the third window behind the driver on each side. The flag must be positioned as low on the glass as possible, centered from front to back on the window.
An interesting Website pertaining to flag etiquette can be found at www.ushistory.org/betsy/flagetiq.html.
Why is the flag sometimes displayed backward on the side of airplanes and buses? The flag decals have the union (the blue area with the stars) on the side closer to the front of the plane. On the plane's left, the decal shows the flag with the union at the left, as usual. On the plane's right side, the union is on the right. This is done so that the flag looks as if it is blowing in the wind created by the forward movement of the bus or airplane.