School Bus Safety
The Ontario School Bus Association believes that the safety and personal security of 825,000 children who ride the bus to school and home is the first priority of student transportation. According to Transport Canada, the school bus is the safest mode of transportation for children because of provincial legislation and regulation, vehicle design and construction, fleet inspections and maintenance practices, operational policies and procedures, and driver qualifications.
Legislation and Regulation
To operate in Ontario, school bus companies must follow the laws and regulations that apply to the operation of commercial vehicles (trucks and buses), which includes, but is not limited to:
- The Highway Traffic Act
- Dangerous Goods Transportation Act
- Public Vehicles Act
- Motor Vehicle Transport Act
- Compulsory Automobile Insurance Act
- Environmental Protection Act
School bus operators must comply with Regulation 612 of the Highway Traffic Act (HTA). School buses are compliant with the Canadian Standards Association Standard, CSA Standard D250, a prescriptive manufacturing standard that school buses must be built and maintained to throughout the service life of a school bus.
Section 175 of the HTA helps keep children safe by requiring motorists to stop when a school bus is stopped with its overhead red signal-lights flashing. Motorists must not proceed until the bus moves or the lights have stopped flashing. Failing to stop can result in heavy fines and demerit points.
The Ministry of Transportation (MTO) monitors school bus operators throughout the province. Facility audits, carrier safety ratings, inspections and spot checks are performed to ensure school bus companies operate with the highest integrity.
During a facility audit, school bus operators are measured against their stated maintenance policies. Vehicles are also inspected to ensure they are compliant with legislated standards, maintenance records are in order, and driver records and logbooks have been filled out properly.
Carrier Safety Rating
MTO determines a Carrier Safety Rating (CSR) for each school bus operator based on performance. Collisions, inspections, and convictions, as well as the results of facility audits influence the Safety Rating. For further information: http://www.mto.gov.on.ca/english/trucks/guideline/
Every school bus company also requires a Commercial Vehicle Operator Registration (CVOR). Operators are responsible for monitoring their CVOR record and the performance information it provides, including violation rates, thresholds, audit scores and resulting Safety Ratings.
In addition to regular mechanical maintenance and daily vehicle inspections by the driver, a government licenced Motor Vehicle Inspection Station will perform at least two mechanical inspections each year on every school bus in Ontario.
School buses are subject to roadside safety inspections. Unlike other kinds of commercial vehicles, they typically take place at the intended destination rather than at the roadside. The inspections are unannounced and are routine checks. The results of the inspection are reported to the driver and the school bus company and can affect the operator's CVOR.
Driver Hours of Service
The number of hours a school bus driver can drive and be on-duty in a day, and over a seven day period, is monitored to ensure fatigue does not compromise the safety of passengers. The Record of Duty Status logbook makes it easy for drivers, their employers, and the MTO to track their hours and determine compliance.
Vehicle Design and Construction
School buses are subject to extensive construction and equipment standards on a larger scale than any other road vehicle. School buses must meet structural standards for crash protection, fire retardancy, and emergency evacuation.
Transport Canada is responsible for setting school bus safety standards and making the vehicles easily identifiable with the "chrome yellow" prescribed colour, emergency exits, the overhead flashing lights, stop arm, and crossing gate. There are additional safety features that are not visible such as the strengthened steel beams which run the length of a school bus and a steel cage around the fuel tank. As new technologies become available, school buses will continue to provide the safest transportation possible.
School purpose vehicles must comply with pollution emission restrictions and anti-idling bylaws. The OSBA supports SmartDriver for School Bus, a FleetSmart initiative of Natural Resources Canada dedicated to energy-efficient practices intended to reduce emissions and provide a healthier ride to school.
Information from all types of school bus collisions demonstrates that the current school bus design provides a high level of protection to occupants and that seat belts may actually adversely affect the safety of children on school buses (Transport Canada).
Transport Canada frequently conducts safety tests to make certain school buses continue to be the safest mode of transportation for children. It has been proven that seat belts save lives. However, field data, side impact tests and sled tests have shown that “compartmentalization” minimizes the risk of serious injury or fatality when riding a school bus. Compartmentalization is achieved through high-backed, thickly-padded, and closely-spaced seating found in all school buses. The solidly anchored and closely spaced seats filled with energy-absorbing material form compartments that protect children in a crash. This built-in passive restraint system protects children the moment they take their seat. This system has proven to be very effective at preventing serious injuries and fatalities for school-aged passengers.
Transport Canada and MTO have confirmed that seat belts on school buses do not offer the same protection to passengers as they do in a car. In fact, seat belts in a school bus have the potential to cause head and neck injuries to passengers. For a seat belt to be effective, it must be worn correctly; snug and on the upper thighs. School vehicles carry passengers from the very young to high school students, therefore if seat belts were used they would need to be properly adjusted for each student and their use closely monitored. A seat belt not worn correctly can cause serious injuries.
School buses do not employ the same safety features as other vehicles because they do not have similar crash dynamics. Industry representatives and Transport Canada agree that compartmentalization continues to offer best means of protection for the occupants of a school bus. Advancements in bus design and construction provide optimal passenger protection.
However, age and weight have a bearing on the effectiveness of compartmentalization. Transport Canada has determined that children under 18 kg or younger than 4 1/2 years old do not benefit from compartmentalization as much as older children over 18 kg. Therefore, Transport Canada recommends the use of a standard car child seat, restrained by a proper seat belt assembly with a tether strap, or the universal anchorage (LATCH) that have been installed in buses since April 2007 in 10% of the seating positions.
School bus drivers conduct daily safety inspections and must record and report all mechanical issues to maintenance personnel. At the start of each day, drivers must inspect their vehicle before it leaves the lot. They check instruments and gauges, perform routine tests, and confirm proper mirror adjustments. The inspection results are recorded in a vehicle logbook in accordance with provincial regulations. Post-trip inspections are performed to verify that every child has exited the bus at the appropriate stop.
Operational Policies and Procedures
School bus companies, school boards and transportation consortia establish emergency contingency plans in the event of a crash, school closure, route change or unexpected medical situation.
School Bus Safety Rules
There are procedures performed by school bus drivers on a daily basis including the loading and unloading of children. This is one of the most important responsibilities that a driver has, as most incidents occur outside the bus and frequent stops are made on each route. Education and awareness about the correct way to enter and exit the bus, cross the street and to stay away from the "danger zone" is crucial to child safety.
Key safety messages to teach children about the "danger zone" include the following:
- If you can touch the bus, you are too close.
- Use 10 GIANT STEPS to take you out of the danger zone.
- Be sure you can see the driver and that the driver sees you.
- If you drop anything in the danger zone, never stop to pick it up.
- Ask an adult or the driver to help.
For maximum protection, seating capacity is adjusted according to the size of the passengers being transported. Compartmentalization is only effective when the student can sit fully on the bench. If the students are too big to assign three to a seat, it needs to be reported to the school board or transportation consortia. The number of passengers in a school bus should never exceed the bus manufacturer's designed seating capacity.
School boards or transportation consortia determine the bus stop locations along each route. The routes are determined by set criteria including distances between stops and to major intersections, posted speed limits, traffic volume, types of roadways, etc. School bus drivers are responsible for making sure each student is picked up and dropped off at the assigned stop location. Children under a certain age must be met by a parent or guardian.
The amount of time a child rides the school bus is also a consideration. Ride times have a direct link to student success. A long-standing study found that if a student spends more than an hour on a bus there is a reduction in achievement in standardized test scores. This trend was confirmed in a recent study that found very long rides reduced students' sleep time, recreational time, academic attentiveness, and extracurricular participation.
All routing decisions are made by the school board or transportation consortia. Contact information for school boards can be found at the following link: http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/sbinfo/
Please read more about Planning Your Child's Daily Trip
School bus drivers in Ontario are held to the highest standards of safety, supervision, and preparedness considering the precious cargo they transport. They receive hours of specialized training, both in the classroom and on the road, to provide safe and reliable transportation. Drivers must demonstrate their knowledge of traffic laws, policies and procedures in addition to demonstrating exemplary driving skills and operation of a school bus. Driving records are screened and criminal background checks are performed during the hiring process and regular medical exams are required. The Drivers Licence Status Check service is a reliable way for bus companies to confirm at regular intervals that their bus drivers continue to hold a valid licence. This service is provided by the Ontario Motor Coach Association (OMCA) -www.omca.com
Training and instruction include the following elements: proper use of school bus equipment, daily pre-trip and post-trip vehicle safety inspections, safe driving techniques including defensive driving skills, procedures for loading and unloading passengers, procedures for entering and exiting school zones, student management, accident and emergency response including evacuation, First Aid/CPR, route instructions, use of electronic communications. Many drivers take certified driver improvement courses and periodic re-examinations to learn about new techniques and improve their skills.
To learn more about the responsibilities of school bus drivers in Ontario, click here.