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Expansion of School Vehicle Inspections Sought in Iowa

By Eric Woolson Transportation professionals and the Iowa Department of

Education said they will again urge state lawmakers in 2013 to mandate inspections of all school vehicles carrying students to and from activities. Current law only requires inspections of buses on regular routes,

excluding an increasing number of vans and SUVs that transport students to athletic, academic and extracurricular events. “Tis is an issue we’ve been pushing five or six years — to in-

spect all vehicles that transport students. We’d sure like to see it because we feel it’s a potentially deadly situation out there,” ex- plained Max Christensen, state director of student transportation. He cited occasions in which districts have used vehicles for

regular school routes that failed inspection. “Tey say, ‘Tat’s OK, we’ll just use it for activities.’ And, once

it becomes an activities-only vehicle, we don’t have the authority to inspect it,” Christensen said. Dan Roberts, immediate past president of the Iowa Pupil

Transportation Association, said the group that represents school transportation professionals also favors the proposed law. He noted that lawmakers approved tougher penalties this year for drivers who injure a child when passing a stopped school bus. “Te time is right for change. Our stance as an organization has

always been to inspect all vehicles,” Roberts added. Christensen said the “best guess-timate” of the student-carry-

ing vehicles currently exempt from inspections ranges from 1,500 to 1,800. While he hopes lawmakers will mandate inspections for all vehicles carrying students, he knows the result would stretch his current staff too thin. Iowa’s two inspectors visit every one of the state’s 348 districts twice a year. “Tey conduct approximately 15,000 inspections a year. Each

one takes about 15 minutes, so that comes out to 46 weeks of work, not including the time it takes the guys to travel district to district,” he explained. Inspection fees were imposed about a decade ago, when elect-

ed officials decided the school transportation office should be self-supporting and have stood at $28 per vehicle since 2009. “We’ve had some discussion about a fee increase. If we hire a

third inspector, we’ll have to have one,” Christensen said. “Some- times we get a little pushback on the inspection fee, but $28 (per inspection, twice a year) is $56 a year per bus right now. Take one to your local garage and see how much that costs. When you consider that we’re going to their facility, it’s well under what they’d be charged elsewhere.” In addition to expanding inspections, Roberts, who directs

32 School Transportation News Magazine October 2012

Transporters hope to strengthen inspection requirements to catch defects, such as this loose body rivet.

transportation services at Davis County Schools in Bloomfield, favors additional training for teachers or other school-approved adults who drive smaller vehicles carrying students. “You can’t just have someone jumping in there. Tat driver

needs to have some training, not to the level of a CDL, but they need to have some defensive driving skills,” he said. State Sen. Mary Jo Wilhelm managed a mandated-inspection

bill to Senate passage last year. It failed to clear the House Trans- portation Committee. Odds of a similar measure’s passage in 2013, she said, will depend on bipartisan agreement. House Transportation Committee Chairman David Tjepkes, a

former state trooper, said the issue requires lawmakers to bal- ance different interests and philosophies. “My personal opinion is that every time the Department of

Education brings something like that to us, naturally, we’re going to take a look at it,” he said. “However, if you look at the statistics, the accident and injury ratio for school vehicles is extremely low, which tells you it is a very safe mode of transportation.” Meanwhile, he said, increasing inspections will require more

inspectors and higher costs. “You have to ask yourself, ‘Is that really the best way to go?’

Some people think the state is the only one that knows how to inspect buses, but you can set standards for local districts that they can follow. And, they may be under more pressure than any- one to make sure children are transported safely,” he said. Gov. Terry Branstad has yet to take a position on the proposed legislation, according to a spokesman. ■

Visit our Web Exclusive at in November for more on Iowa’s inspection program.

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