A headline-grabbing statement on seat belts, a man who overcame great odds by learning to walk again, and a creative school bus safety play were among the highlights of the industry conferences in November.
Scott Burrows, one of the keynote speakers, told NAPT and NASDPTS members about the car accident that left him paralyzed from the chest down and how he worked hard to regain use of his limbs. “You can choose to be bitter, or you can choose to be better,” he said.
After speaking from his wheelchair for much of his presentation, Burrows surprised the audience by standing up and walking — which a doctor had told him he wouldn’t be able to do again after the accident. “Never let something that someone else believes paralyze you from achieving those things in your life that you might be able to achieve,” Burrows said.
NHTSA Chief: 'School buses should have seat belts. Period.'
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has adopted a new position on the yellow bus: “every child on every school bus should have a three-point seat belt.”
Before a large crowd of pupil transportation officials in Richmond, Virginia, on Nov. 8, NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind spelled out his agency’s newly formed stance on the long-debated topic. While he admitted that it was a new position on the school bus front for NHTSA, he said that it is consistent with the agency’s broader push to increase seat belt use in other vehicles.
“Our position is that seat belts save lives,” Rosekind said. “That is true in a passenger car or a big, yellow bus.”
Still, the leader of NHTSA, which is responsible for regulating school buses, stopped short of announcing a rulemaking at this point. He said that the agency will now take “a series of steps to move this forward.”
Those steps will include further research into the issue — for example, studying jurisdictions that are currently using three-point belts on school buses — and trying to determine how to overcome the financial barriers — three-point belts currently add about $7,000 to $10,000 to the cost of a large school bus.
The administrator’s remarks came in a joint session of the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) and National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services conferences in Richmond.
NHTSA’s new school bus safety initiative isn’t limited to seat belts. Rosekind said that the agency’s public meeting in July identified the need to address the safety of students outside of the bus as well as inside.
To that end, Rosekind said that NHTSA will research the issue of motorists illegally passing school buses. That will include investigating the use of stop-arm cameras to catch and deter such violations.
The administrator said that his agency will also update the school bus safety materials on its website.
On the seat belt topic, sensing some resistance in the room, Rosekind acknowledged that he was presenting a challenge, but he suggested that it was time for the industry to get behind the notion that three-point restraints increase the safety of school bus passengers.
“What has to change is all of us,” he said. “Each of your organizations needs to ask a simple question: How can we not want every child who rides a school bus to have a three-point belt?”
NHTSA has been accused of being unclear in its policy on school bus seat belts in the past, but in his conference speech, Rosekind didn’t mince words: “Concentrate on this simple, basic statement: School buses should have seat belts. Period.”
In a response to Rosekind’s remarks, NAPT officials thanked the administrator for “sharing his thoughts and speaking candidly about his opinions.”
NAPT, like other industry associations, said that state and local officials are best able to make decisions about equipping school buses with seat belts.
“Absent a federal requirement for belts, NAPT continues to agree with NHTSA that it is most appropriate if the decision to order seat belts on large school buses were left to the states and local jurisdictions,” NAPT officials said. “Local officials are in the best position to decide whether to purchase seat belts, since these officials must weigh a multitude of unique considerations bearing on purchasing decisions, especially when faced with budgetary constraints.”
New transportation directors don’t need to ‘reinvent the wheel’
In the NAPT Summit session “Hired to Reinvent the Wheel? A Roundtable Discussion for New Directors,” seasoned transportation directors shared resources and words of wisdom with an audience of mostly green transportation directors.
Four veteran transportation directors — Barry Sudduth at Stafford County (Va.) Schools; Steve Simmons from Columbus (Ohio) City Schools; Keith Henry at Lee’s Summit (Mo.) R-7 Schools; and Steve Kalmes, now at JSK Consulting and formerly with Anchorage (Alaska) School District — opened the session with a quick introduction before the audience discussed the hurdles they have come up against as new directors.
Sudduth emphasized that even after some time in, the job constantly presents new challenges.
“I have been a director for 15 years, and every day is still a learning experience,” he said.
Longtime directors all agreed that it’s important to use resources available to keep learning and to reach out to peers for help when needed, since not every director gets thorough training when they start.
Sudduth shared a story about his first day on the job as a transportation director. He was told that his predecessor would train him for two weeks. What actually happened was the director dropped off the keys and phone, and said, “Good luck with this one,” Sudduth recalled.
Directors also agreed that, in addition to using the NAPT member directory, “there isn’t a transportation director in the industry that you can’t call.”
“I learned that [if I have] a problem, one thousand other directors have had it,” Simmons said.
“There’s no reason to reinvent the wheel, because we’ve already done it,” Sudduth added.
Kalmes also recommended NAPT’s Professional Development Series courses to get basic skills.
Another recommendation for gaining much-needed support is to turn board members into allies by letting them join the directors for a day of work to witness firsthand all the factors involved.
“Educate them in everything you do and they will be your cheerleaders in the community,” Kalmes advised.
Sudduth pointed out that school board members will then likely understand why it’s so difficult to fulfill the many individual requests that come in.
Kalmes added that one good way to do this is to offer for school board members to hold their meetings in your office so they can easily see what a director deals with on a day-to-day basis.
NAPT awards highlight heroism, training efforts
Honors for heroism, training efforts and leadership were handed out during the Summit. Here are th e NAPT 2015 award winners:
• The Continuing Education Award, sponsored by Thomas Built Buses, went to Bryan Johnson of Howard County Public Schools in Maryland and Rhonda Watson of the School District Five of Lexington and Richland Counties in South Carolina.
• The Special Needs Transportation Award, sponsored by Q’Straint/Sure-Lok, went to Kala Henkensiefken of Brainerd (Minn.) Public Schools.
• Winning the School Bus Driver Training Award, sponsored by IC Bus, was Mark Lindstrom of Marietta (Ga.) City Schools.
• The Heroism Award, sponsored by Blue Bird Corp., went to Macon County (N.C.) Schools bus driver Alice Bradley, who was credited with thwarting a potential school shooting in June.
Other awards presented during the Summit included School Bus Fleet’s Administrator of the Year honor, which went to Pam McDonald of Orange (Calif.) Unified School District.
Charmane White of Albemarle County (Va.) Public Schools won STN’s Leadership Award.
Also during the Summit, school bus technicians and inspectors tested their skills in the America’s Best competition. Here are the top contestants:
• Winner: Kirk Brooks, Indiana
• First runner up: Michael Holly,
• Second runner up: Denver
• Winner: Dustin Wells,
• First runner up: Anthony
• Second runner up: Kevin
NASDPTS supports feds' new 3-point belt policy
State pupil transportation directors who convened in Richmond expressed support for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)’s new position on three-point seat belts for school buses.
NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind gave an address to industry groups gathered in Richmond on Nov. 8, saying that the agency now believes that “every child on every school bus should have a three-point seat belt.”
Rosekind also said that while school buses are still the safest form of student transportation, seat belts can make them safer. “The position of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is that seat belts save lives,” he said. “That is true whether in a passenger car or in a big, yellow bus.”
Leon Langley, president of the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS), responded to Rosekind’s remarks in a statement from NASDPTS during the association’s conference.
“We are encouraged by the administrator’s remarks about the agency’s position,” Langley said. “It supports our position paper, ‘The Equipping and Use of Passenger Lap/Shoulder Belts in School Buses, February 2014,’ and is consistent with it.”
In that position paper, NASDPTS endorsed three-point belts for school buses, saying that they “should be encouraged as an option when considering new bus original equipment specifications.”
In Richmond, NASDPTS also highlighted Rosekind’s pledge that “NHTSA will seek to use all the tools at our disposal to help achieve” the goal of three-point belts for all school bus passengers.
“We believe this support from NHTSA will trigger discussions by federal, state and local agencies about how resources can be allocated to begin putting three-point belts in new school buses throughout the nation,” Langley said.
The NASDPTS conference also offered presentations by other federal officials, including David Cooper from the Transportation Security Administration, Larry Minor from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Jennifer Keller from the Environmental Protection Agency and Thomas Barth from the National Transportation Safety Board.
Also among the NASDPTS sessions were discussions on such safety topics as student dragging incidents, bus fires and stop-arm violations.
See more conference highlights
To view more sights from the Richmond, Virginia, conferences, such as the Willy Wonka-themed school bus safety play presented by local high school theater students, shown left, go here.