David Strickland is a tough man to track down.

The administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is in demand, whether it’s speaking to transportation industry groups or testifying before legislators. And that’s not to mention his many responsibilities in overseeing the broad range of vehicle safety and policymaking programs under NHTSA’s jurisdiction. 

Strickland, who was sworn in as NHTSA administrator in January 2010, even had a trip to India during the time I was working with his staff to set up an interview with him. The process was long, but the wait paid off.

As you’ll see in the feature article here, what’s not hard to pin down about Strickland is his stance on school buses: He repeatedly recognizes them as the safest way for children to get to and from school, and he and his agency have made numerous efforts to publicly champion them and to promote increased ridership.

I need to take a moment here to thank Strickland’s staff at NHTSA for arranging the interview, and to thank Strickland himself for taking time out of his busy schedule to talk about the yellow bus — enthusiastically, I might add.

The experience was in stark contrast to the last time I tried to get an interview with a NHTSA administrator (who will go unnamed). That attempt, years ago, went no further than a phone call with a staffer who seemed all too eager to shoot down my proposed questions and to dismiss the idea of an interview.

I can’t readily confirm it, but the Strickland article could mark the first time that SCHOOL BUS FLEET has interviewed an administrator of NHTSA, which, as you may know, regulates school buses, tracks accident data and develops training materials related to pupil transportation.

But this is not just about what we at SBF did. It’s part of what I see as growing ties between the pupil transportation community and key federal agencies.

In fact, the spark for the Strickland interview came when he was speaking at last fall’s conference of the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS) in Cincinnati. (As a sort of aside during his address, the administrator mentioned that one of his staff members, Leah Walton, was profiled in the latest issue of SCHOOL BUS FLEET.)

NASDPTS had another top transportation official on its conference lineup: National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Deborah Hersman, who also spoke at the concurrent National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) Summit.

Also last year, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood appeared at the National School Transportation Association convention and at an American School Bus Council Love the Bus event.

For its 2010 Summit, NAPT landed Kevin Jennings, then an assistant deputy secretary with the U.S. Department of Education (DOE). As he spoke to the association, Jennings was moved to apologize that apparently no one else from the U.S. DOE had come to speak at the conference anytime in recent memory.

The relationship with Jennings bore additional fruit: His office, with input from NAPT, developed training modules to help pupil transportation professionals deal with bullying.

As it turns out, some folks from Washington really are here to help.