John Benish Jr., the president of the NSTA and president and chief operating officer of Cook-Illinois Corp., provided expert witness testimony on school bus safety to Congress. Photo courtesy NSTA

John Benish Jr., the president of the NSTA and president and chief operating officer of Cook-Illinois Corp., provided expert witness testimony on school bus safety to Congress. Photo courtesy NSTA

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Transportation executive John Benish Jr. testified on Thursday before Congress on issues related to school bus safety, including illegal passing and seat belts.

Benish Jr., the president of the National School Transportation Association (NSTA) and president and chief operating officer of Cook-Illinois Corp., provided expert witness testimony on school bus safety to the House Transportation Infrastructure Committee, Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, at its hearing, titled, "Examining the Federal Role in Improving School Bus Safety."    

Benish Jr. explained that school buses have unique design and safety features as well as dedicated and specially trained drivers, resulting in an unmatched safety record. He also noted that only .01% of all annual vehicle fatalities occur inside a school bus.  

Benish Jr. told the committee that during the loading and unloading of students, the area around the bus is where the majority of student injuries occur. Although passing a stopped school bus is illegal in all 50 states, violations have reached epidemic proportions, he said.

Additionally, Benish Jr. noted that a 2018, one-day survey of 105,306 school bus drivers in 38 states, which is conducted by the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS), revealed 83,944 incidents of vehicles illegally passing stopped school buses in one day, and asked for support of the bipartisan bill, the Stop for School Buses Act of 2019 (H.R. 2218/S. 1254). That legislation calls on the U.S. Department of Transportation to conduct a comprehensive review of all the issues involved with illegal passing of school buses, and make recommendations to Congress on best practices to deal with the national safety issue. (NASDPTS released the numbers from its 2019 survey on Wednesday, and found that over 95,000 motorists illegally passed school bus stop arms in one day.)

Benish Jr. also addressed the Secure Every Child Under the Right Equipment Standards (SECURES) Act (H.R. 2792), introduced in May 2018, which seeks to federally mandate seat belts on school buses. He noted that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has previously declined to mandate seat belts on large school buses at the federal level because it would force more children into more unsafe modes of transportation as communities are compelled to make difficult budget decisions.  

NSTA also believes this issue is most appropriately decided at the state and local level where school budgets are resolved, Benish Jr. said in his testimony, and does not support a federal mandate unless accompanied by full funding that is equally available to both public and private providers of school transportation. 

Lap-shoulder belts are the only appropriate consideration, Benish Jr. said, and added that NSTA does not support any requirement to retrofit school buses with seat belts, because it could compromise the structural integrity of the school bus.

For Benish Jr.’s full testimony, go here.

Watch the full hearing below.

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