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    School Bus Safety: Recommended Procedures and Equipment

    By Mark Conroy

    According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), school buses are the safest mode of transportation for getting children back and forth to school. That’s mainly because school buses are designed to be safer than passenger vehicles in avoiding crashes and preventing injuries. Also, school buses keep an annual estimated 17.3 million cars off the roads surrounding schools each day. NHTSA has developed guidelines for state and local governments to use for developing policy for school buses, including fire safety and driver inspections and reporting on the condition of the fire equipment.

    NHTSA recommends a comprehensive program that ensures school buses are operated and maintained to achieve the highest possible level of safety. NHTSA developed Highway Safety Program Guideline Number 17, Pupil Transportation Safety, which provides states with guidance for identification, operation, and maintenance of school buses. The purpose is to minimize the danger of death or injury to children traveling on those buses. Although NHTSA recommends buses be painted National School Bus Glossy Yellow (except the hood, which can be lusterless black), they also have other safety criteria for states.

    NHTSA Guideline 17 recommends all school buses be equipped with the following:

    • The words "SCHOOL BUS" printed in letters not less than eight inches high
    • Glossy black bumpers, unless bumpers are covered with reflective material
    • At least one fire extinguisher, properly mounted near the driver's seat, with a sign indicating the location of the extinguisher and other safety equipment for use in emergencies
    • Amber lamps for when the bus is preparing to stop and red lamps for when the bus is stopped
    • A stop signal arm to be used in conjunction with red warning signal lamps
    • A system of mirrors conforming to Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards
    NHTSA also recommends that each state establish procedures for maintaining school buses as follows:
    • Buses be maintained in safe operating condition, based on a maintenance program
    • Buses be inspected at least semiannually
    • Drivers be required to perform daily pre-trip inspections of their bus and safety equipment, especially fire extinguishers
    • Drivers report promptly, in writing, problems with fire extinguishers and other safety equipment
    • Drivers develop pre-trip inspection and condition reports

    Based on NHTSA Guideline 17, all school buses should have a fire extinguisher mounted in a vehicle bracket, near the driver’s seat, with a sign indicating its location. School bus drivers are required to perform daily pre-trip inspections, including examinations of extinguishers and other safety equipment. As part of the pre-trip inspection and condition report, drivers must report promptly any extinguisher that is overdue for a monthly inspection, annual maintenance, or periodic hydrostatic test. School bus drivers rely on the accuracy of inspection and service tags on the extinguishers. Make sure the information you record on tags is clear so school bus drivers can report problems promptly.

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