New Schoolbus Safety Requirements Include Child-Alert Technology

Senate Bill 1072, approved by the Governor in September 2016, brings to fruition efforts to guard against students being left unattended on a schoolbus. (Statutes of 2016, ch. 721.) By the 2018-2019 school year, schoolbuses and other qualifying vehicles must be equipped with an alarm system that essentially forces bus drivers to check the bus at the end of a route to make certain all children are off the vehicle.

Known as the Paul Lee School Bus Safety Law, this legislation is the eponym of a 19-year-old special-needs student who passed away after being left alone on a hot schoolbus for several hours at the end of his home-to-school trip. In response to this and other tragic schoolbus fatalities involving special-needs students, who are sometimes non-verbal and often the most vulnerable, SB 1072 imposes new technology requirements on school districts, county offices of education, charter schools, and private schools that provide transportation to students.

No later than the start of the 2018–19 school year, schoolbuses, youth buses, and most school pupil activity buses – as defined in the Education and Vehicle Codes – must be equipped with a “child safety alert system” which is “a device located at the interior rear of a vehicle that requires the driver to either manually contact or scan the device before exiting the vehicle, thereby prompting the driver to inspect the entirety of the interior of the vehicle before exiting.”  (Vehicle Code § 28160.)

Legislative staff noted the costs of these schoolbus safety systems can “vary based on the vendor and the complexity of the system and the electrical and computer systems of the vehicles in which they are installed.” For example, in 2001, Los Angeles Unified School District installed a similar system on its fleet of 1,300 schoolbuses at a cost of $194,000, or approximately $150 per bus. SB 1072 does not provide state reimbursement for installing this technology.

By January 1, 2018, California Highway Patrol, the agency tasked with regulating safe operation of schoolbuses, will adopt new rules consistent with SB 1072. The new regulations may clarify the technical specifications of the child safety alert system and allow participating districts and counties to better estimate the cost of compliance.

S.B. 1072 imposes other transportation-related requirements that took effect January 1, 2017:

  • School districts that contract for transportation services must ensure their contracts include a requirement that a student may not be left unattended on a bus. (Education Code § 39860(b).)
  • School transportation safety plans must include procedures to ensure students are not left unattended on a schoolbus. (Education Code § 39831.3(a)(4).)
  • Certification and recertification programs for bus drivers must include classroom instruction covering inspection procedures to ensure students are not left unattended. (Education Code § 40085.)
  • School officials must notify the Department of Motor Vehicles within five days after (1) upholding disciplinary action (after completing applicable procedures) against a bus driver who was found to have left the immediate vicinity of a vehicle with an unsupervised student onboard and (2) finding that the driver’s actions constituted gross negligence. (Education Code § 39843(a).)

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