No rules for Arizona school vans; council tasked with making them has no members

Caitlin Sievers
7 Min Read

Who is ensuring that the people driving vans full of K-12 students in Arizona are properly qualified? Not the Student Transportation Advisory Council,
which is tasked with making recommendations for the use of those vans,
because the council effectively doesn’t exist — and hasn’t for at least a

When lawmakers passed a bill last year
that allows schools to transport students to and from school using 11-
to 15-passenger vans instead of yellow buses, proponents promised
skeptics that the advisory council,
in conjunction with the Arizona Department of Public Safety, would
establish minimum standards for drivers and safety standards for the
vehicles themselves. 

But it’s not possible that DPS worked
with the council to create those standards, because the council hasn’t
met since then-Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, signed the bill into law
on June 16, 2022.

The council, whose membership was
increased to 14 members from nine by the same bill, is currently
completely vacant, and has been vacant for more than a year with no
indication from Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs when or if new members will
be appointed. 

The law that established the council
says that it’s Hobbs’ responsibility to appoint members to the council,
but it was Ducey who initially allowed all of the members’ terms to
expire without making reappointments. 

Hobbs did not respond to multiple
requests for comment or a list of questions that the Mirror sent to her
team. Instead, her spokesman forwarded the questions to the Secretary of
State’s Office, which in turn referred the Arizona Mirror to DPS. 

DPS did not answer the Mirror’s questions before this article was published. The most recent agenda available online for a School Bus Advisory Council meeting — the former name of the council — was dated Dec. 14, 2021. A member of the Transportation Administrators of Arizona, who wanted to remain anonymous out of fear of reprisal from DPS, told the Mirror that was the council’s last meeting. 

The law governing the council lays
out its specific duties, including that it meet twice annually, and that
it “advise and consult with the department of public safety concerning
matters related to the certification of school bus drivers and the
safety of school buses” and 11-15 passenger vans. 

The promise was ‘a lot of eyes’ looking at the safety

Sen. Sine Kerr, R-Buckeye, sponsored
the bill that allows schools to use passenger vans to transport
students. She said the vans would be a way for smaller schools in rural
areas and charter schools with a widely dispersed student population to
transport students more efficiently than with a large-capacity yellow

Vans would also be cheaper than a school bus, which has higher maintenance and operational costs.

The bill passed through both chambers of the Arizona legislature last June with only Republican support. 

As the bill made its way through
legislative committees, multiple Democrats expressed concern about
credentialing for drivers and the safety of high-capacity vans. 

The National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration recommends that only people who are used to driving large
passenger vans do so, and it advises that ideally drivers should have a
commercial driver’s license. More than half of the 235 people killed in
rollover crashes in 15-passenger vans from 2010 to 2019 were ejected,
and 69% of those killed weren’t wearing seatbelts, according to the
NHTSA. Electronic stability control in newer 15-passenger vans prevents
the increased danger of rollovers that poses a safety risk in older models. 

Regular school bus drivers must
obtain a commercial driver’s license and submit to drug testing, but
drivers of 15-passenger vans are only legally required to have a regular
drivers license. 

During a Senate Education Committee meeting
in February 2022, Sen. Sally Ann Gonzalez, D-Tucson, spoke about
working as a school bus driver more than 30 years ago while she was in
college. She said that she believes requiring drivers who transport
students to have a CDL is an important safety measure.

The transportation administrator who
spoke to the Mirror said that DPS strongly recommended during a meeting
the agency held with school transportation administrators that schools
require van drivers to have a CDL in order to ensure student safety, but
he said that the department has no way to enforce that. He estimated
that up to 70% of districts in Arizona were already using the vans for
student transportation this year, including his own. 

Also during the February 2022
committee meeting, Sen. Christine Marsh, D-Phoenix, said that she
appreciated the idea of the bill and the possibility that it might help
with an ongoing school bus driver shortage, but was concerned that
safety and insurance coverage would be an issue. Marsh ultimately voted
against the bill.

In June 2022, when the Senate voted
on the bill, Kerr assured those with safety concerns that DPS, in
conjunction with the Student Transportation Advisory Council, would keep
a close eye on safety measures for use of the vans. 

“It’s an important bill, particularly
for rural areas that need flexibility in their school transportation
when it doesn’t make sense to take a full size school bus to transport
students safely on their regular bus routes,” Kerr said, adding that
there would be “a lot of eyes looking at this on safety.”

Kerr did not respond to requests for comment.

Caitlin Sievers news,politics,crime,education,trans_growth

2023-09-15 19:19:40 , All Headlines |

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