National school transportation conference focuses on safety and federal updates

School buses are an iconic symbol that represents access to education in the United States. Right now, as they are, school buses are by far the safest way for students to travel to and from school.

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) made a significant announcement about school bus safety at a joint session of the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS) Annual Conference and the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) Annual Summit with more than 1500 in attendance including Maine DOE’s Transportation and Facilities Administrator Pat Hinckley.

During the joint keynote address Dr. Mark Rosekind, Administrator for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), announced a position change – school buses should have seat belts. Dr. Rosekind noted that the position of NHTSA is seat belts save lives and NHTSA’s policy is that every child on every bus should have a three-point seat belt. The announcement included a series of steps to be implemented by NHTSA:

  • Begin a series of in-depth research projects on safety and seat belts
  • Be in contact with safety advocates to determine how to overcome the cost issues and identify potential funds for states and local school districts
  • Send letters to Governors of the six states that already have seat belt requirements to determine how they overcame seat belt issues

NHTSA challenged industry to adopt three-point seat belts.

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) initiatives were introduced that include: entry level driver training program where classroom and behind the wheel training is required, a national registry for commercial driver license training that is similar to the national medical examiner registry, changing the vision standard for commercial driver license, a drug and alcohol clearinghouse rule that is due in the spring of 2016, a for hire safety fitness determination to determine when a carrier is unfit, a for hire school bus electric logging device, changing the insulin treated process for commercial driver license, and more.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) used case study analysis of simulated school bus accidents to show the result of passengers who have no seat belt, wear a lap belt and wear a three-point seat belt. With the help of simulations, it was clear that the three-point seat belt provided better safety results.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reviewed the Clean Diesel Rebates program and noted that children are especially vulnerable to pollutants and that pollutants are two to five times more concentrated inside the school bus. The EPA programs help school districts remove old higher emission buses and replace them with new low emission buses.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security Transportation Security Administration (TSA) reminded state directors that the Aviation and Transportation Security Act includes school buses. TSA has five focus areas: assessments, security planning, security training, partnerships and information sharing. States were urged to focus on three items: 1. plan, 2. train and exercise, and 3. don’t take security for granted. School bus companies and school districts can schedule security assessments with TSA by calling 571-227-2609.

The National Congress on School Transportation (NCST) reviewed significant decisions that included updating technology, security and language from May’s 16th National Congress. The 2015 National School Transportation Specifications and Procedures are expected to be released in February.

The known causes of fires on the bus along with new risks being introduced and best practices for prevention were also shared along with an innovative new program that will help special needs students. The Bus in the Classroom program is a collaborative approach between special education staff and transportation staff to help special needs students learn transportation safety and life skills.

In Maine, school transportation staff can learn how these new policies and trends announced at the NASDPTS Annual Conference are implemented by attending the annual State School Transportation Conference to be held July 19 – 22, 2016 at Sugarloaf. Information is available on this website: http://www.maptme.org. Registration is required.

The following resources are available for information about school transportation:

For more information, contact Maine DOE Transportation Facilities Administrator Pat Hinckley at pat.hinckley@maine.gov.