INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — Autonomous vehicles, Volkswagen diesel settlement funds, and the new administration in Washington were among the topics discussed at the National School Transportation Association’s (NSTA’s) Midwinter Meeting this week.
The event, held near Palm Springs from Saturday to Wednesday, focused on pertinent issues for school bus contractors and the industry in general.
One recurring subject at the NSTA meeting was the advent of autonomous vehicles and the impact they might have on pupil transportation. Several speakers noted that as more self-driving cars are expected to hit the road in the coming years, they will need to be able to recognize school buses and know how to interact with them — for example, stopping for a school bus that is loading or unloading students.
Autonomous vehicles are also in the spotlight in Washington, D.C. Last week, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) announced the establishment of a new advisory committee focused on automation across multiple modes. The committee will address the development and deployment of automated vehicles and the DOT’s related research and regulations.
The NSTA meeting also informed attendees on other pertinent developments in Washington. One was the Government Accountability Office’s new report on school bus safety. The report shows a relatively low incidence of fatal school bus crashes: 0.3% of the 34,835 total fatal motor vehicle crashes on average each year. The report also provides details on states’ requirements for school bus inspections and driver training.
Another topic of discussion at the NSTA meeting was the upcoming availability of funding from the Volkswagen diesel settlements. An environmental mitigation trust established as part of the settlements will pay for projects to reduce NOx from a variety of vehicles, including school buses. One of the NSTA sessions educated members on how to seek funds from the mitigation trust.
With a new administration in Washington, including new leadership at the DOT, NSTA is working to make its concerns known on such regulatory issues as safety fitness determination and obstructive sleep apnea.
One of NSTA’s key efforts to advance its priorities in Washington is the annual Capitol Hill Spring Bus-In, and the Midwinter Meeting included an enthusiastic push for more members to take part in this year’s Bus-In, where they will get a chance to meet with representatives and inform them about their businesses.
At the Midwinter Meeting, NSTA members also heard about developments from other industry groups, including the National Association for Pupil Transportation and the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services. There was also an update on the American School Bus Council, which has been working on more infographics that promote the benefits of school buses.