How much do you know about your child’s school bus?
When you send them out to the bus stop, do you know the driver’s name? His or her qualifications or driving record? Or even more important, what condition that bus, carrying your precious cargo, is in?
Years ago, I traveled to a school bus yard. My son was using a school bus at the time and it occurred to me that the company never sent me any information on the bus or driver, beside the bill and cost.
What I learned (and as a reporter you can imagine I asked a lot of questions) was that many of the buses on that crowded lot had major maintenance issues that had NOT been addressed. Yet the buses were not pulled out of service and my young child was still riding on them.
As parents, we are all busy and have taken multitasking to its limits. But how can we allow our kids to ride on school buses that we know so little about? This weekend on my show, FOX News Live at 2-3 p.m. ET, we’ll tell you about a bus crash in Pennsylvania that injured not only the children aboard, but also ran over 14 kids on the street when it spun out of control and hit a stone wall.
Investigators haven’t concluded if the bus lost control due to a maintenance problem or driver error — but the records did indicate that the bus had been serviced for an accelerator problem previously.
As it stands right now, individual school districts and bus companies make the determination if a bus is to be pulled out of the fleet and off the road.
Alan Ross, a school bus safety advocate with the National Coalition for School Bus Safety, is calling for a nationwide age limit for buses based on parts and mileage. “If you don't mandate basic minimums,” he said, “then there's tendencies for abuse, tendencies for oversights and then all of a sudden we have buses that go out of control.”
Seems to this parent like a no-brainer. But not everyone in the “bus biz” agrees. Derek Graham heads a group of state directors of pupil transportation services and told FOX that he is against a federally mandated bus retirement age because he believes it could hurt school districts financially. “The replacement of those school buses is an expense that is born at either the state or local level,” he said.
Bottom line — he believes that there is very little federal money that goes into school transportation.
He also makes the point that in some parts of the country, school buses might be subject to more wear and tear than others and forces some into retirement, while some of these buses may still have a useful life and become a waste of taxpayer dollars.
The iconic yellow school buses are considered the safest mode of transportation for school kids — how do we keep it that way?
I’d really like to hear what you think. Should there be a mandatory national standard for retiring school buses? Are we as parents asking enough from the companies about the condition of the buses our kids are riding in?
Here's Your Responses To School Bus Safety:
"I know exactly what shape my child's bus is in. Due to the fact I take my daughter to her bus every morning. I even talk to the bus driver." — Jay (Burkburnett, TX)
"As a PA resident, I am not nearly as concerned about the physical condition of school buses, because the buses are inspected as required by law. I am more concerned about the older bus drivers and the drivers of all ages traveling too fast. The speeding big yellow buses are not being seen by the police. I travel a little too fast in my vehicle and I cannot keep up with a school bus. I have seen buses bouncing the kids, to the ceiling, because the buses are traveling mostly on country or mountainous roads. Seat belts are not a requirement in PA school buses either. For your report, please consider speeding by the driver of the bus ... age and physical condition of the driver and why do they not have seat belts in school buses." — Lorraine (Pennsylvania)
"I just caught your show about the dangers of old school buses on the road. Instead of worrying so much about the age of a bus, how about putting our tax dollars into some seat belts for our children and grandchildren. Talk about being in the dark ages ... if those children had been belted in, they never would have flown out of the bus and been run over. Take a look at past school bus accidents and count the number of injuries and fatalities because the children had no seat belts and put that on TV. I've been on school buses in the past, and I know from experience that it's pretty difficult to stay in your seat if the bus just hits a bump in the road, let alone a crash." — Anita (Kingsville, MD)
"As the president of a small bus company in New York State, you should be aware of the following information concerning school bus safety. The NYS Department of Transportation has a VERY stringent inspection policy on ALL vehicles that are PRIVATELY owned and used for public transportation in New York State. This includes most school districts, but NOT public transportation operated by municipalities. All our vehicles are inspected (not just a regular inspection such as you would receive at an inspection station for your private vehicle) by a NYS DOT inspector every six months. This time may be sooner depending on what the inspector finds. If the vehicle passes, it passes, if it does not, it is not allowed to be used to transport, until the problem is fixed and reinserted by the DOT or the vehicle is retired.As to the question of the age of the vehicles — it depends on the use, maintenance and conditions of operation. Some vehicles are used as a 'spare' vehicle and may only get a couple of thousand miles of use in a year. That vehicle could last many years past the 10-year mark and still be in EXCELLENT shape. Inspections vary by state, but New York State has been a leader in Safety for decades." — Laurel, Roethel Coach Lines, Inc. (Ogdensburg, NY)
" I am a resident of Citrus County Florida and bus safety is a big issue with me. Recently, my son was on the bus with a substitute driver and there was an accident on the main road in my development. This man let my son leave the scene of the accident and walk home without permission. He was picked up by a good Samaritan and brought home. This person was very kind, but could have been a pedophile. Another problem I have, is that I have a 4-year-old and a 6-year-old on the bus, and administrators don't feel it's absolutely necessary that my preschooler have a seatbelt on, unless they have a disability. Most of the time there are seatbelts available, but if her bus is used on a field trip or breaks down, the decision is made in the office that unless they have a disability they don't count. When I complained to the transportation department both times I was ignored." — Tina
"Thanks for the informative, fair and balanced report on the aging school bus issue. I can empathize with both sides of the argument. I think creating an arbitrary government mandated retirement age for buses based on years in service or mileage would be not be indicated. I would rather see very stringent inspection with increased requirements which could be managed through the local state government and would be instituted when buses reach a specified age or mileage. This should include exhaustive safety inspections done at much more frequent intervals and a requirement of the school systems or bus companies to produce all maintenance records for these vehicles. Any vehicles deemed below safety standards would have to removed from service immediately and either retired or brought back into compliance and reinspected prior to return to service. This approach which would help reduce unnecessary costs of arbitrary replacement to school districts while insuring the safety of the precious cargo these buses carry. " — Dr Francis (Somerville, New Jersey)
"Basically, the bus is usually not the issue. If you can maintain any piece of equipment then it will usually continue to work. Look at the air force! They have many planes in the air that are older than some of these school districts. Yet they still work and men and women still fly them. Most of the problems as I see it is the School Bus Driver and maybe even the mechanics! Some of these folks drive these buses as they would a sport car. Pulling out in front of traffic when they don't have the room, driving fast, just not thinking about what they are driving. Here in Tucson, I have had a number of buses either speed past, make very close turns or change lane like they own the road. This is what is unacceptable. Sounds like someone wants to sell more buses. Well the tax payer is burdened again with the cost of someone's totally incompetent idea that it is mostly the equipments problem. Why not look at the quality of the mechanics and drivers who are in charge of running these buses." — Jon (Tucson AZ)
"Yes, I believe the buses should be checked periodically, no exceptions. However, to buy new ones instead of replacing defective parts of course is erroneous. I don't think the public is given all the information. The buses should have seat belts for the driver and for the occupants on the buses, and there should be a policeman on each bus to command obedience as to the use of the seat belts and as to the behavior of the travelers on board to and from their schools. That could alleviate most of the accidents, fatal and otherwise. I believe too much is expected of the bus drivers, for they must be aware of the traffic outside the bus as well as the questionable activities going on inside the buses." — Beatrice (Seattle, WA)
"We have busses that are 30+ years old. They rattle and break down — but our county is poor. Also, they do not have seat belts. All of the POLICE have new SUVs and cars." — Jon & Valerie (Mariposa, CA)
"Federal funds for a school bus — why? We have a great local school district. The responsibility is on us, the rate payers, to fund our school district and the buses, band, stadium, electric bill and so on. — Jeffrey (Austin, TX)
"Rather than using an arbitrary 'calendar time' limit for school buses, I would suggest using 'hourly time' such as is used in aviation for airplanes. 'Calendar time' is not an accurate gauge for wear and tear on mechanical items — one district may use their buses sparingly, while another might rack up considerable miles in a given period of time. On the other hand, an 'hours use' has a direct, and measurable, bearing on various components life span. There are many aircraft in use today that are the equivalent of 'zero time' because of the way parts have been replaced, inspected or repaired. Using a 'hourly time' gauge would be a much more accurate way of evaluating school bus safety status. Safer, and less expensive than arbitrarily discarding a 'used bus.'" — Hal (Oxford, MS)
"I enjoyed watching what you just did on school buses; I am an advocate of school buses and do not think that kids should be driving themselves and their friends to school. I also do not think that parents should be driving their kids to school, if bus services are available in their area. But let me say, I am also an advocate of seat belts and feel very strongly that they should be installed on all buses. I realize that this might be extra work for the driver to see that they wear them, but start them out when they are small since kids are used to being restrained in their parents vehicles anyway, by the time they get to the upper grades it will be just automatic with them to put them on." — Mary (Marietta, GA)
"I am a school bus driver in South Carolina. The buses in South Carolina are owned by the state and some of them are the perfect example of what we would NEVER want our children to be transported in. I think that SC is the only state in which the school buses are owned by the state and I don't think that they are even inspected. I drove in Illinois for five years and the buses were owned by the district. The buses in Illinois were inspected each year and taken care of much better than the ones I have driven in SC. If a small district in Illinois can provide good buses, why can't a state with an educational lottery, provide buses of better quality than they have on the road?" — Nancy
"Most school districts will use an average age for their fleet of buses. Another word, you can have half your fleet new and some ten to fifteen years of age and come up with an average age for the fleet of buses. Most contracts have a limit of ten years of age. A bus ten years of age should be a safe bus if the maintenance program that is set up by a district or company is followed through." — Tom (La Crosse, WI)
"I am a school bus driver for a small district in Oklahoma. We drive school buses that are anywhere from 1 -13 years old. The buses are maintained by a mechanic that is on staff with the school district and all problems with the buses are taken care of promptly. The bus that I drive on a daily basis is 13 years old and only has 74,000 miles on it. As long as the bus is taken care of there is no reason to make school districts purchase new buses especially in school districts that can't afford it. We are just now able to build a new elementary school to replace the ones that where built in 1950. " — Chris
"Why would you worry about how old a bus is when you don't care that seat belts are not required for the passengers?" — Larry (Delta Co.)
"Compliance with strict federal NTSB regulations should be required by all states. The same safeguards that protect airline and bus passengers must be extended to our school children." — Tom (Alabama)
"It is ridiculous to retire a bus due to age. Shall we also throw away airplanes after they reach age 10? Operate the bus's under similar maintenance procedures as the airlines." — Gary
"I am a law enforcement officer in Indiana. Our state laws stipulate that the buses are inspected each year by a member of the Indiana State Police Motor Carrier division. There is no law or regulation that states how many years a bus may be in service. I can vouch for the school districts in my area, east central Indiana, have very good bus garages and mechanics on staff. I agree that there need to be some type of oversight nationwide on this issue, but just to the extent that the federal government instructs local districts to have some type of annual or semi-annual inspection. Nothing further from the feds needs to be implemented. They have their hands in far too many local issues as it is. " — Robert (Greenfield, IN)
Jamie Colby joined FOX News Channel (FNC) in July 2003 and currently serves as a news correspondent and anchor of "FOX News Live" on Saturdays and Sundays (2 p.m. – 3 p.m. ET). She anchored coverage of the passing of Pope John Paul II and the election of Pope Benedict XVI from Rome. You can read her complete bio here.