As winter approaches, harsh weather conditions make it even more critical for school districts, colleges and universities to feel confident that they are transporting students to and from school-related activities as safely as possible.
There are typically multiple bus operators in any given region, so college, university and district administrators and their trip organizers put each through close scrutiny when selecting one. By knowing what these school officials will be looking for in your company, you will be able to make the necessary preparations to be at the top of their lists, and land those big transportation contracts.
The focus on safety in the motorcoach industry has increased significantly in the wake of severe accidents during recent years. In 2007, a motorcoach accident involving the Bluffton University (Ohio) baseball team killed seven and injured 21 near Atlanta, GA. In 2009, a bus carrying a Utah high school band veered off a highway, killing the band director and injuring several students. In 2011, 26 band students were injured when their charter bus collided with an 18-wheeler in Texas.
Such accidents, and the recent government shutdown of several motorcoach companies for safety violations, highlight the importance of school administrators and trip organizers taking an active role in selecting motorcoach carriers for their school trips. Administrators and organizers must be able to prove due diligence in selecting safe motor carriers. If not, they risk significant liability exposure for neglecting this critical responsibility. This increased liability on the part of schools, in addition to transportation companies, means passenger trip organizers will be doing their research when attempting to identify and select the safest bus companies in the industry to transport their students.
Administrators and trip organizers now compare carriers on many different factors—not just on price. They are within their rights to inquire into carriers’ safety policies, procedures and records—and they will. Your company should have clear, written policies and easy-to-implement procedures for the operation and maintenance of your fleet, which are tracked and recorded by your company. Trip organizers may request vehicle maintenance and inspection records, and the qualifications of maintenance personnel.
Since most accidents happen due to driver error, it’s just as important for them to inquire about driver safety records, your company’s alcohol and drug testing system, policies on drivers’ hours of service, driver qualification files, accident registers and other such information. Individual driver performance should be a part of your overall safety records, as organizers will want to review them prior to taking a road trip.
To further minimize school liability, it is also critical for administrators and trip organizers to be certain that their selected bus carrier and transport vehicle are properly insured, and they will therefore request that your company produce a proof of insurance. It is legally required that a carrier transporting more than 15 passengers has $5 million in insurance. It is also required that any carrier crossing state lines be marked with the legal trade name of the carrier and have its USDOT number displayed on both sides of the vehicle.
Third-party validation is also helpful for these administrators and organizers in determining a carrier’s safety record, and it can reduce the need for them to gather the safety information on their own from motorcoach companies. Many subscribe to the independent safety rating organization Transportation Safety Exchange’s (TSX) list of operator companies that have been approved as safer motor carriers, based on its rigorous TSX-Comprehensive Review (TSX-CR) process, which is the most stringent and thorough review process in the industry.
To date, nearly 120 bus companies have begun or completed the process of achieving TSX approval status. One TSX subscriber, GOGROUND Options, along with its clients, is transitioning into using TSX-approved carriers exclusively. GOGROUND Options has long-term arrangements to provide safe transportation for clients, including the NCAA, the Red Cross, the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Texas System, and Game Day Management (the company that organizes the Super Bowl, NCAA March Madness, and other world-renowned events), among others. Imagine if your company could land a contract with a trip organizer like this.
Safety concerns do not stop after motorcoach selection, however. Careful planning of the trip’s activities will help ensure that a trip is as smooth and safe as possible. Once you are selected by a school or trip organizer, it is the responsibility of the organizer and chaperones to assist the driver in maintaining continued safety throughout the journey by minimizing driver distractions. Students should be required to stay in their seats while the motorcoach is in motion. If the motorcoach is equipped with seat belts, passengers should wear them. Students should not be allowed to throw objects or horse around, pushing and shoving one another. Keeping the noise level down—no yelling or loud music—is also important.
District officials, administrators and trip organizers must recognize that drivers cannot operate a motorcoach for more consecutive hours than are legally allowed, and the current limit is 10 hours with proper rest between shifts. They should also consider questionable weather conditions before and during trips, exercising good judgment to protect the safety of the driver and students when determining whether to postpone or cancel a trip.
Following these guidelines, your company can assure that it is doing everything it can to provide safe service for student trips. When universities, colleges, school districts and trip organizers see this, and can verify it in all the ways mentioned, they will put your company at the top of their lists, and you can start landing those big student transportation contracts—knowing that your company is giving those students the safest rides possible when you do. //LD
Contributed by Dr. Jolanda Janczewski
Dr. Jolanda Janczewski is president
and CEO of Transportation Safety
Exchange (TSX), a safety rating organization
that performs detailed investigations of motor
carriers to ensure they are meeting the highest
possible safety standard available.
She can be reached at (855) 890-8879.