January 15, 2014

3 steps to bolster safety for school motorcoach trips

By Derek Graham

This story originally ran on School Bus Fleet magazine’s website on Jan. 14.

On Dec. 6, I attended the Bus Safety Roundtable hosted by Anne Ferro, administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

This was a high priority meeting for FMCSA, as evidenced by the presence of U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, who put his personal spin on the overall importance of student safety when traveling on motorcoaches.

The meeting took me back 13 years, to when I was invited to talk about bus safety with our Motor Carrier Enforcement Section in North Carolina. When asked how our schools go about selecting motorcoaches for activity trips, I responded with a blank stare. I had no clue! It turned out that, in way too many situations, a school principal or teacher simply shopped for pricing in the Yellow Pages.

We’ve come a long way in that regard in our state. Now, State Board of Education policy requires each district to maintain a list of approved motorcoach carriers from which schools must choose when booking these trips.

And we’ve come a long way nationally, as well, recognizing that the same kids we work so hard to protect on the yellow bus are the ones riding on motorcoaches, and they deserve a safe trip.

RELATED: "FMCSA previews changes to Safety Measurement System"

But, as Barry Sudduth, Region 3 director for the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT), reported at the roundtable, there are still school districts making uninformed choices of motorcoach companies for school trips. (Barry reported a wide spectrum of 250 responses to an NAPT survey, ranging from uninformed to very informed on this subject.)

Here’s a three-step approach that can work well for schools and school districts to improve student safety on school trips.

1. Maintain an approved list of safe motorcoach companies. The FMCSA resources listed below can be used to compile this list by the district or its consultant.

2. Establish a contract for a trip ensuring the proper number of drivers and buses. The trip organizer needs to understand the FMCSA hours-of-service requirement. A driver may not exceed 15 hours on duty, 10 hours driving, without an eight-hour period of rest.

3. Day-of-trip validation. The trip organizer should check the driver’s CDL and medical card and ask the driver to demonstrate that the bus has been inspected, including lights and emergency exits.

RELATED: "Bus safety app makes data more accessible"

At the roundtable, FMCSA showed us several resources that are available to schools and school districts, including a new mobile app with which the safety status of a motor carrier can be checked by keying in the Department of Transportation number from the side of the vehicle.

I encourage you to share this information as we work together to ensure student safety, regardless of their mode of travel.

FMCSA bus safety links
North Carolina guidelines

Derek Graham is North Carolina’s state director of pupil transportation and a School Bus Fleet magazine editorial advisory board member.

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