ILLINOIS SCHOOL BOARD JOURNAL
Maximizing safety on non-district buses
by Patrick Labriola
Patrick Labriola is president of Transportation Safety Exchange (TSX), a safety rating organization that performs detailed investigations of motor carriers to ensure they are meeting the highest possible safety standard available. He can be reached at email@example.com.
As fall moves into winter, and weather conditions deteriorate, it is critical that schools feel confident in the safety of motor coach carriers that sometimes provide student transportation for extracurricular trips. School administrators must take steps to ensure that children will be transported to and from school-related activities on trusted carriers, so parents can be assured that children will travel safely.
Safe student transportation is no longer the sole responsibility of the carrier. It is important for both school administrators and parents to play a more active role. If a contracted bus transporting students were to be involved in an injury-causing or fatal accident, would the school administrator be able to demonstrate he or she exercised the highest duty of care in selecting a safer, higher-quality carrier? Would parents feel secure knowing they had demanded precautions be taken?
The accountability for safety beyond the carrier was highlighted in 2007 when the Bluffton University ( Ohio) baseball team was involved in a horrific fatal accident near Atlanta, Georgia. After the Georgia Department of Transportation and the motor carrier insurer reached their coverage limits, victims brought suit against the university and its liability insurance carrier.
Bluffton was unable to prove the university exercised appropriate duty of care, and because of an ominous clause in Bluffton’s insurance coverage, the Ohio State Supreme Court ultimately ruled in 2011 against the university and its insurance carrier. The result was a $25 million settlement paid by Bluffton and its liability insurance provider.
Additional high-profile cases include:
• a tragic bus accident that injured five third-graders while on a field trip to Poughkeepsie, New York;
• a charter bus filled with Georgia chorus students that overturned during a return trip from Florida; and
• a charter bus accident that injured 26 students on their way from Texas to Orlando
These, among many others, have catapulted the issue of transportation safety to the top of school administrators’ list of priorities.
Since these incidents, a growing number of academic institutions are looking to a third party expert for validation that the carriers they contract with are safer. To be confident that the best possible motor carrier is being selected, they are now able to more proactively identify these carriers by considering some of the following suggestions:
Look beyond cost
Typically multiple carriers are available in any given region, and administrators should perform due diligence in selecting one. Trip organizers should review many different factors when comparing motor carriers — not just price.
Trip organizers should ask for referrals from other schools that take similar student trips, and review the carriers’ safety records, reputation and performance.
Ask the right questions
School administrators and trip organizers have the right to and should investigate carriers’ safety policies, procedures and records. Motor coach companies need to have clearly written, easy-to-understand policies and procedures for the operation and maintenance of their fleets that are regularly tracked and recorded by the company. Trip organizers should request vehicle maintenance and inspection records, and qualifications of maintenance personnel.
It also is crucial to inquire about driver safety records, the company’s drug and alcohol policy, procedures regarding drivers’ hours of service, driver qualification files, accident registers, etc.
Since most students are minors, trip organizers should also ask whether or not the driver has a criminal record. Individual driver performance should be a part of a motor carrier’s overall safety records and should be reviewed by trip organizers prior to transporting students.
Reviewing all of this information can be extremely useful when identifying a safer carrier. However, selecting a safer motor coach can be a much simpler process with the assistance of an independent rating service.
Third party validation from a safety rating service is helpful in determining a carrier’s record and can practically eliminate the burden on trip organizers to gather the safety information on their own from the companies.
Inspections by a safety rating service should include a risk assessment and evaluation of the level of safety compliance and effectiveness of safety management controls. If the motor carrier has been rated, the rating should be up-to-date.
Several school systems across the nation have already taken advantage of third party safety rating services when selecting their motor carriers. Nearly 70 school districts throughout Maryland and North Carolina have begun to select carriers in this way.
Safety in motion
Once a safer carrier has been selected, trip organizers need to continue safe practices on the road. Minimize driver distractions by requiring that students stay seated while the motorcoach is moving, avoid disruptive behavior and keep noise to a minimum.
If seatbelts are available, encourage students to wear them. If road conditions worsen, trip organizers are also responsible for using good judgment for the driver and students when determining whether to postpone or cancel a trip due to inclement weather.
As the school year progresses and weather becomes unpredictable, the main goal is to maximize the transportation safety provided to students, while minimizing liability.
Motor carriers that receive high safety ratings are considerably more likely to be the best option for safely delivering students to and from extracurricular activities. Combined with good safety practices on the road, they can provide your district with a significantly lower liability risk.
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Although the IASB Web site strives to provide accurate and authoritative information, the Illinois Association of School Boards does not guarantee or warrantee the accuracy or quality of information contained herein.