Tirollo Bus Company, LLC                                                                      Phone   203.799.7715
85 Norman Street                                                                                                                                        FAX  203.799.7715
Orange CT.  06477

Table of Contents

1.        How many students can sit on a school bus seat?

2.        Why don't school buses have seat belts?

3.        Who should I contact if I have a problem with my child's school transportation?

4.        What does it take to become a school bus driver?

How many students can sit on a school bus seat?

There is no absolute number. Under Connecticut law, the maximum number of students that can be transported in a school bus corresponds to the seating capacity designated by the manufacturer of the bus. Thus, a 72-passenger bus can carry 72 students, regardless of their age or size. Federal regulations govern how manufacturers determine seating capacity, using a 15-inch block for each designated seating position and rounding up to the nearest whole number. Most school bus seats are 39 inches wide; dividing 39 by 15 produces 2.6, which rounds up to three seating positions per seat.

Clearly that formula is not appropriate for all students. While state law does not limit the number of students per seat, it does require that aisles and exits be free of obstruction. This means that students cannot be hanging off the seats into the aisles, and their belongings cannot block emergency exits. A further consideration is that the passive restraint system called compartmentalization works only for students who are completely contained within the seating system; a student who is partially off the seat is not fully protected. Therefore, the number of students that can safely sit on a school bus seat is the number that fits entirely on the seat.

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Why don't school buses have seat belts?

In considering this question, we need to make a distinction between lap belts only, which is the system most often used in school buses, and the three-point lap/shoulder safety restraint system, which has recently become available for school bus seats.

If the question refers to lap belts, the answer is relatively simple. Lap belts are not an effective restraint system, and they can cause injury to young children. You may hear many other concerns when discussing school bus seat belts, such as misuse of the belts by students, cost, building the seat belt usage habit, maintenance, etc., but these issues are all peripheral to the essential safety question: Are children at less risk of injury in school buses with lap belts or in school buses without lap belts?

All of the primary research that has been done on this question, including that of the National Transportation Safety Board, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the Transportation Research Board of the National Research Council, has concluded that school buses without lap belts offer excellent protection to occupants in crashes by virtue of their superior construction and the compartmentalized seating standard. This standard, which is unique to school buses, protects passengers by placing them between high-backed, well-padded seats that are designed to absorb crash forces. The effectiveness of compartmentalization is evident when you consider the statistics: Of some 5500 children under the age of 18 who die annually in motor vehicle crashes nationwide, only 7 are in school buses.

Compartmentalization works this way: When a school bus crashes into an object, the unrestrained child slides forward on the seat, hitting the back of the seat in front of him, first with his knees, then with his trunk and shoulders. The seat back gives a little, absorbing the crash forces and distributing them so that there is no concentration of trauma in one part of the body. This system works so well that passengers in extremely severe accidents have escaped serious injury. (School bus occupant fatalities usually occur only when the victim is in the direct line of impact with a heavier vehicle, such as a train or tractor-trailer. In those cases, no restraint system would protect the passenger.)

But look what happens when you add a lap belt to the seat. Because the child's hips are now secured, he can't slide forward. Instead, his trunk and head fly forward, pivoting over the lap belt, and hitting the seat back in front of him. This concentrates all the force of the impact on the child's head and neck, resulting in high HIC (head impact criteria) values, and increased trauma to the head and spine. In addition, because a child's pelvic area is still undeveloped, the lap belt does not stay anchored below the iliac crests as it does in an adult. As the belt rides up on the abdomen, it puts increased pressure on internal organs, creating serious abdominal trauma. A biomedical engineer from Duke University told the National Transportation Safety Board that the trauma produced by a lap belt when a 60 pound child is involved in a 30 mph accident is worse than riding over the child with the rear wheel of a car.

So the answer to the question about lap belts only appears to be that children are at less risk of serious injury in school buses without them, because lap belts are both ineffective and dangerous.

Lap/shoulder restraints are different, however. This system, similar to the ones in automobiles, works with compartmentalization and, according to NHTSA, could provide some additional benefit to occupants of school buses, if it is consistently and properly used. But the federal government does not believe that a mandate for lap/shoulder belts is justified, because the safety benefits are very small and the cost is high. Furthermore, there are several potential negative factors, such as children wearing the shoulder portion improperly, that could mitigate the benefits of the restraints and result in a net loss of safety.

Local school districts that are considering whether to equip their new school buses with lap/shoulder restraints are necessarily mindful of budgetary constraints and their need to balance incremental safety improvements with fiscal responsibility. We want to emphasize that school buses without restraints are still safer than any other current mode of transportation—whether it’s walking to school, riding bikes, or traveling in parents’ cars. A study by the National Academy of Sciences found that 800 children die each year during school transportation hours, and only 5 of them are school bus passengers. The biggest mistake that districts could make is to reduce the number of students who qualify for transportation in order to afford new buses with restraint systems. Any possible benefit of the restraints would be completely overshadowed by the increased risk to students who were denied school bus transportation. NHTSA's report to Congress on their school bus occupant protection study STN Online's The Great Seat Belt Debate (everything you ever wanted to know, and more)

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Who should I contact if I have a problem with transportation?

The place to start is at your school district's transportation office. Most larger districts have a transportation coordinator, but in smaller districts transportation may be handled by the business manager or the assistant superintendent. If you call the administration office, they will send you to the proper person. In some cases, particularly if the problem involves a driver's actions, you should contact the transportation company directly. Be sure to have all the facts, and to present them clearly and dispassionately. Understand that the person will probably need some time to investigate your problem, but ask when you can expect to hear from him or her.

If your problem involves lack of transportation or a bus stop, the state provides a procedure for you to follow if you are not satisfied with the response you receive from your initial phone call:

1.        You must send a written request for a hearing to the Board of Education;

2.        The Board must hold a hearing within ten days of receiving your request;

3.        The Board must send you a written finding within ten days of the hearing;

4.        If you are still not satisfied, you can ask for a transcript of the hearing and appeal the finding to the State Board of Education.

Be aware that the State Board will not overturn the local Board unless they find that the Board's action was arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable. Generally, if the local Board acted according to its written policies concerning the provision of transportation, the State Board will uphold the ruling.

If you are concerned about the safety of a bus stop, we suggest bringing together a group to review it. The group should include representatives of the transportation company, the school administration, the local police traffic division or highway patrol unit, the town highway department (if the stop is on a town road) or state DOT (if on a state road). Sometimes the State Department of Motor Vehicles will send an inspector to review the stop (contact Sergeant Green at the Commercial Vehicle Safety Division in Wethersfield, 860-263-5441).

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What does it take to become a school bus driver?

School bus drivers are professionals who are subject to higher standards in training and licensing than any other drivers on the road. Before becoming a school bus driver, a person must

1.        Apply for a commercial driver's license (CDL) with a passenger (P) endorsement. Study for the knowledge tests required for this license. The knowledge tests cover laws, regulations, and safe driving practices.

2.        After passing the knowledge tests, begin training for the skills tests. The three skills tests cover inspection of the vehicle, special maneuvers on a closed course, and a road test. It takes an average thirty hours of training to master the skills in a school bus.

3.        Get a comprehensive physical examination according to state or federal standards.

4.        Obtain two sets of fingerprints, one for a state police criminal record check and one for an FBI criminal record check.

5.        Undergo a motor vehicle record check. The applicant must also have his name checked agaijst the Connecticut Sex Offender Registry. 

6.        After mastering the driving skills, begin school bus training. A minimum of ten hours is required on such subjects as safe loading and unloading, railroad crossings, emergency procedures, and student management.

7.        Take the skills tests with a motor vehicle inspector.

8.        After passing all tests and record checks, receive a CDL with P and S (school) endorsements.

9.        Submit to pre-employment urinalysis drug testing, and agree to random drug and alcohol tests.

10.     Enter company and school district training to learn routes, policies, and additional student management training.

Of course, these are the formal requirements. It also takes patience, commitment, responsibility, a love of children, and a sense of humor to be a school bus driver. In return, school bus drivers get affection from their passengers, gratitude from parents, glares from other motorists, and pride in knowing that they are an important cog in the wheels of education. They also get summers and school holidays off, and the privilege of taking their preschoolers to work with them. All in all, it's a tough job with a lot of rewards.

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