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It's Bus Safety First

New Initiative on Student Transportation

U. S. Department of Transportation officials chose West Potomac High School as the setting to kick off their new initiative on “Moving Kids Safely.”

"Transportation safety is an integral part of the educational needs of our children,” said Henry Johnson, West Potomac’s principal. "We are particularly concerned, especially at the high-school level, because so many of our students use motor-coach transportation as a form of transportation for activities as well as athletic events.

"At West Potomac, we believe in maintaining a safe environment for all of our students, and the Moving Kids Safely program is just one way that schools can ensure the safety of their students. We support the efforts of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration [FMCSA], and working together, as school and community, we can provide the very best for our children.”

The goal of the Moving Kids Safely program is to increase the use of safe bus companies for transporting schoolchildren to and from sporting events, field trips and other extracurricular activities. Optimally, states will establish criteria for selecting safe bus companies and publish a list of approved carriers from which to choose. At a minimum, the FMCSA will provide safety data on its Web site regarding interstate bus companies.

Joseph M. Clapp, administrator of FMCSA said, “These students here today and those across America really are this nation’s most treasured natural resource. Moving Kids Safely intends to help protect these resources so that our young people have the opportunity to grow and mature and prosper as the future leaders of our country.

"The idea behind this initiative is to get the word out about how to select a safe bus company for transporting students to sporting events, field trips and other extracurricular activities. I know that the motor-coach industry is an absolutely vital part of the commercial transportation system in this country.”

CLAPP DESCRIBED these companies as mostly small, family-owned businesses dedicated to operating safely. “There are approximately 4,000 motor-coach companies, operating 40,000 vehicles, and they employ 200,000 people,” he said.

Clapp noted that school-bus transportation is one of the safest modes of transportation available. “Children are eight times safer riding on a school bus than in any other mode of transportation,” he said. “Even though bus transportation is safe, we must not take this safety for granted…”

The Fairfax County public school system fully supports the Moving Kids Safely program. “Our priority has been, and will continue to be, the safety of our students,” said Dr. Daniel A. Domenech, superintendent of the county’s public school system. “Therefore, our first consideration should always be to use the yellow school bus whenever practical and available. However, realizing that yellow school buses are not always available or practical for long trips, full-size commercial buses offer the next best source for safety and transportation needs.

“Our school system has made considerable and continual efforts to monitor the safety records of commercial carriers over the years,” Domenech continued. “Currently, Fairfax County Public Schools is engaged in developing a standard contract for use by commercial carriers to specifically place the responsibility squarely on the commercial carriers to meet and abide by a high standard of excellence. This standard contract will address all of the components of the proposed Department of Transportation guide to hiring bus companies for student extracurricular activities that are being introduced today."

Domenech went on to say, "Our intention is to make our field trips as safe as possible for our students as well as keeping the cost reasonable,” he said. “This should foster a higher level of customer satisfaction as well as reducing risks for the school system.”

THE MOTOR COACH INDUSTRY has endorsed the Moving Kids Safely program. Victor S. Parra, president and CEO of the United Motorcoach Association, who also has two children attending Fairfax County public schools, said, “When I tell you that I am thrilled with this initiative, I mean that very seriously, because my children and your children will be the beneficiaries of this initiative.

"While we are the safest way to travel, bar none, we must make safety our No. 1 priority. This initiative certainly puts that at the top of the list. It’s also the same reason that we at the United Motorcoach Association launched our own student motor-coach safety guide to provide some help to school administrators and others who are booking trips, help and assistance in selecting the right motor-coach company. This very much parallels what FMCSA has initiated here today.

“When selecting a motor-coach company, we want to make sure that we don’t make the choice based on price alone,” he said. “Safety costs money, and sometimes the cheapest operator is not necessarily the safest operator. While we recognize that schools have budgets to abide by, it is most important that the dollar not be the driving factor.”

To determine whether bus companies who are transporting schoolchildren are safe, FMCSA has provided a list of questions. With answers to these questions, parents, school administrators and other interested individuals can do further research by accessing the FMCSA Web site at WWW.fmcsa.dot.gov.