It is well known in the school transportation industry that travel by school bus is the safest mode of transportation available. In fact, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), travel by school bus is 70 times safer than travel to school in any other way.
However, this amazing statistic is not as well known outside the industry. This is something that we struggle with on a daily basis – helping parents understand just how safe the school bus is so they ensure their child rides it to and from school every day, and helping locally elected officials understand so they continue to provide the necessary funding to maintain or grow school transportation service. In the last decade, it has also been misunderstood by federal regulators.
We in the industry also recognize that we are very heavily regulated. At the federal level, within the Department of Transportation alone, the industry is regulated by three agencies: the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, NHTSA, and the Federal Transit Administration. The industry is also regulated at the state level for school bus inspections, driver licensing, and other requirements. In some cases, there are regulations at the local level as well.
While federal highway and transit programs have seen modernization and regulatory streamlining over the last decade, federal school bus regulations have only increased. The National School Transportation Association (NSTA) has led many successful legislative efforts to stop the most unreasonable of these new regulatory proposals. However, the pileup of overzealous and onerous regulation has not resulted in any improvement in the industry’s already low fatality rates but, instead, has resulted in increased costs and burdens on the industry.
In an effort to address this disconnect, NSTA worked with Congressman Scott Perry (R-Pa.) to develop the Buses United for Safety, Regulatory Reform, and Enhanced Growth for the 21st Century Act (BUSREGS-21), which was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on April 25. This is a comprehensive bill designed to ensure continued and enhanced safety, but to also bring about essential regulatory reform. The bill will:
• Evaluate whether existing regulations applicable to school buses are achieving their projected goals.
• Modernize and streamline federal motor carrier safety and vehicle safety regulations for the school transportation industry, including rescission of some unnecessary regulations that do not improve safety.
• Ensure that regulations written to apply to both trucks and buses are fully evaluated for their appropriateness to bus operations.
• Speed up the approval process for new bus operators desiring to enter the industry.
• Require the removal of Safety Measurement System (SMS) scores of passenger motor carriers from public view — as they are based on faulty and inconsistent methodology and data — until the National Academy of Sciences study on the Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) Program is complete.
• Exempt passenger motor carriers from any regulatory requirements derived from the advance notice of proposed rulemaking on obstructive sleep apnea.
• Require that any increase in minimum insurance levels for passenger motor carriers is accomplished through the legislative process, rather than the regulatory process.
• Exempt passenger motor carriers from regulations requiring speed-limiting devices.
After having been forced to stay on the defense for many years due to the continued regulatory burdens placed on the industry, this legislation is a great offensive step forward and is a significant opportunity to provide the industry a regulatory reset, allow for growth, and enhance safety.
NSTA will continue to advocate for this legislation on Capitol Hill, and we remain hopeful that it will be considered as part of an infrastructure bill expected to be considered later this year.