During the past five years there has been a dramatic increase in the number of children below the age of five who are being transported to and from school and private programs on school buses.
Since 1996, fifty percent of all school-age pedestrians killed in school transportation-related crashes were between the ages of 5 and 7. Directed by the U.S. Congress, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) has developed Federal motor vehicle safety standards to ensure the safety of children riding on these buses.
School Bus Transportation Risks?
Children attending public and private child care and day care programs, as well as children in early intervention and special education programs receive high quality early education services, and in more and more cases, they also receive free transportation to and from these Federal, state and local programs.
Some of the key issues addressed by the Preschool Transportation Guidelines for protecting preschool children, as well as infants and toddlers, on school buses include:
- Driver licensure and criminal background checks: All school bus drivers must have appropriate licensure and criminal background checks as regulated by their state.
- Bus Monitors: Bus attendants should be on the bus to assist the bus driver in providing safe transportation. The number of adults on the bus should be similar to ratios required in classrooms and day care centers.
- Language barriers: When bus monitors do not speak the same language as the children on the bus, emergency instructions can be misunderstood or not heard
- Behavioral management: Children who behave inappropriately may cause distraction to the driver and place other children in unsafe situations
- Child safety seats, restraint systems, and safety vests: These must be installed and used correctly or they will place children at risk for injury
- Special health care needs: Children who need special care due to health and/or physical needs need trained personnel on the bus. Be sure cleaning solutions do not create allergic reactions for staff or children. It is important to note that repeated cleaning can make fabric more flammable.
- Length of ride: Child safety is at risk when children remain on the bus for too long
- Training for drivers and bus monitors: All school bus personnel must have current and ongoing training in emergency response, CPR, and First Aid
- Pedestrian safety training: Parents and children need to know how to ride the bus and walk near traffic safely
Car Seats and Child Restraint Systems
NHTSA defines preschool as children under 50 pounds and has identified the following principles for appropriate car seat use:
- Each child should be transported in a suitable, approved Child Safety Restraint System (CSRS) certified to meet Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 213.
- CSRSs include forward-facing, rear-facing, and booster child safety seats-car seats, and safety vests
- Children should remain in a CSRS until they weigh more than 50 pounds. This recommendation focuses on weight, not age. State laws vary on requirements for children traveling in car seats on school buses.
- CSRSs should be properly secured to the school bus seat by staff trained in proper restraint system procedures. There should be no unbelted passengers seated behind seats with CSRSs car seats.
- CSRSs should be properly fit for the school bus seating compartment and the child transported
- CSRSs should be registered with the manufacturer and any applicable recalls implemented
- CSRSs should be withdrawn from service and destroyed after a crash or at the expiration date. For seats without an expiration date, it is recommended that seats be discarded after six years.
- CSRSs should be located starting in the front of the bus to facilitate observation of transported children
- Maximum seat spacing should be ordered on new buses to provide increased safety for child passengers and improve access to the seats for securing children in CSRSs
- The total width of CSRS(s) and passengers on any school bus seat should not exceed the seat width
- CSRSs should be placed next to the window if there is another passenger in the seat
Training for Bus Drivers and Bus Monitors:
- All drivers and monitors must be trained in Basic First Aid and CPR with appropriate annual and biannual renewal. They must also be trained in the use of the local emergency response system and the response plans for school bus emergencies. Emergency contact information for parents and guardians must be kept on the bus at all times.
- Each driver must have a written evacuation plan and evacuation drills with the children they transport
- There must be ongoing evaluation of drivers and monitors including bus ride observations by supervisors
- Seat belt cutters and fire extinguishers must be kept on the school bus in a clearly marked location within reach of the seated driver
- CSRSs should never be placed in rows of seats where emergency windows or doors are located
- All baggage and other items on the bus are properly stored and secured
- Aisles are kept clear and the doors and emergency exits are unobstructed at all times
- There is at least one bus monitor on the bus at all times
- All bus drivers have a valid Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) or meet their state and local licensing requirements
- Each vehicle that transports children is equipped with a communication system to call for assistance in case of an emergency; safety equipment for use in an emergency, including a charged fire extinguisher that is properly mounted near the driver’s seat and a sign indicating its location; a first aid kit and a sign indicating the location of such equipment; and a seat belt cutter for use in an emergency evacuation and a sign indicating its location
- Children are only released to a parent or legal guardian, or other individual identified in writing by the parent or legal guardian
- Fixed routes have been established to ensure the safety of the children being transported. Alternate routes have been established in case of weather or accident related emergencies.
- Driving time should never exceed one hour for any child on the bus
- Vehicles are never loaded beyond the maximum passenger capacity at any time
- Vehicles are not required to back up or make U- turns, except when absolutely necessary
- Stops are located to minimize traffic disruptions and to afford the driver a good field of view in front of and behind the vehicle
- If children must cross the street before boarding or after leaving the vehicle because curbside drop off or pick up is impossible, they must be escorted across the street by the bus monitor or another adult
- Specific procedures are established for use of alternate routes in the case of hazardous conditions that could affect the safety of children
The NHTSA is the key federal regulatory agency that governs school transportation. The NHTSA defines a school transportation-related crash as a crash involving either a school bus, or a non-school bus functioning as a school bus, transporting children to or from school or school-related activities. They can be reached at 1-888-327-4236.
Published in: Family