February 2016

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Transportation Safety
by Don Williams, School Finance and Organization

While our state has experienced some tragic accidents this past year, statistically the yellow school bus is still the safest way for school age children to get to and from school. I wanted to take the time to address some of the more current issues and challenges facing North Dakota School Transportation and even poll the districts, to create a dialogue.

Seatbelts - At a recent State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS) conference, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Administrator, Mark R. Rosekind communicated a departure from a stance that seatbelts did not make school buses safer, and called for the nation’s school bus leaders to find ways to put seatbelts in school buses. It caused quite an immediate stir and drew national media attention. Mr. Rosekind was clear to state he was not announcing any new rulemaking at this point, just asking everyone to re-consider earlier arguments and said, “We all need to end the search for reasons why seatbelts on buses cannot make students safer, and begin the search for ways to make seat belts on school buses a reality.”

Railroad Crossings- Annually, the North Dakota Department of Transportation asks me to send a memo to all school districts asking for information on railroad crossings. Since your bus drivers are driving every day, they are a great resource for information on any unsafe crossings. Please help NDDOT improve the safety of all our crossings by returning that memo. If you need information on the memo and how to participate in this program, please contact us at 328-2236.

Bus Inspections- Currently at the beginning of the school year, the North Dakota Highway Patrol conducts 100 percent of school bus inspections.  To help alleviate this huge undertaking, discussions have begun for possible adjustments to this process. Some ideas include inspecting a percentage of buses in the beginning of the school year and then scheduling the remaining buses during the course of the school year.  Another solution includes the possibility of certifying bus or truck center mechanics to be school bus inspectors.  It should be noted, no decisions have been made at this juncture.  You will be informed as discussions continue and notified if changes occur.

Driver recruiting- I’ve heard from many districts statewide on how increasingly difficult it is to train, hire and retain safe, dependable bus drivers. That being said, I would like to offer assistance by gathering feedback from districts who have developed ‘best practices’ or found solutions to help alleviate this task.  Any suggestions or input to help recruit and retain quality bus drivers would be welcomed.