WASHINGTON, D.C. — State pupil transportation directors said that a training proposal by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) would significantly increase transportation costs for school districts and exacerbate driver shortages.
The FMCSA Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) would require additional training for entry-level operators of commercial vehicles — including school buses — who cross state lines.
In a comment on the NPRM, the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS) requested that school bus drivers be exempted from the proposal.
In making its case, NASDPTS cited the superior safety record of the pupil transportation industry, particularly in interstate travel.
“Going back at least 15 years, we can identify only one fatal school bus crash in interstate transportation,” NASDPTS wrote. “The NPRM does not identify any school bus-specific driver training or interstate safety concerns.”
The association also cited the quality of existing training requirements for school bus drivers. A recent survey of NASDPTS members showed that more than 90 percent of states have mandatory pre-service, entry-level school bus driver training that typically follows a state-mandated curriculum.
While the length requirements for training vary by state, they average more than 20 hours of classroom instruction and 10 hours of behind-the-wheel instruction, NASDPTS said.
The association noted that, because of driver shortages, many school districts find it necessary to provide CDL training and testing, which are costly. The proposed rules, NASDPTS said, would significantly increase those costs, leading to a worsening of driver shortages and a decrease in safety if districts were forced to reduce bus service.
In one point of contention with the NPRM, NASDPTS said that its recent survey found that approximately 20 percent of school bus drivers travel interstate at least once on an annual basis, while the NPRM estimated the figure to be only 1 percent.
Further, the state directors expressed “a high level” of concern that districts would be forced to require all entry-level drivers to obtain the proposed interstate CDL due to driver union contracts and the need to distribute assignments evenly among all drivers.
“As a practical matter, school districts, especially those near state borders, cannot maintain a special, limited pool of drivers who are the only ones qualified to drive across state lines,” NASDPTS wrote. “The directors feel strongly that all school bus drivers should have the same licensing and training requirements.”
NASDPTS also cited a 2001 advanced notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) to extend the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations to all interstate school transportation operations by local, governmentally-operated educational agencies. FMCSA withdrew the ANPRM after reviewing public comments noting the safety record of the school transportation industry.
In the event that FMCSA decides to not exempt school bus drivers from the proposal, NASDPTS offered an alternative: adopting basic pre-service training standards for school bus drivers that accommodate states’ existing programs. Any state that couldn’t show that it already met the standards would be required to implement them.
The comment period for the NPRM has ended, but the docket (FMCSA-2007-27748) can be viewed at www.regulations.gov.