School bus safety
Information about safe practices for school buses and how the Ministry of Education and other organisations ensure that school bus services are safe.
New Zealand has a very good safety record for school buses, and serious crashes and incidents are rare. However, when one does happen, the following action is taken:
- Bus driver/operator obtains medical aid immediately and contacts the Police, the school/s and the local service agent.
- Police notify caregivers or next of kin where there has been serious injury or death.
- School bus controller notifies the principal and telephones a report through the local service agent immediately. Where police are not required to do so, the principal immediately notifies caregivers of any students who have sustained injuries.
- Service agent immediately notifies the Ministry of Education local and national offices.
- Within three days, the school bus controller files a written report, including any new developments, with the local service agent.
The New Zealand Transport Agency determines the legal loading limit for every bus. This includes both seated and standing passengers. The loading limits for a particular vehicle can be found on its Certificate of Loading, and bus operators are responsible for ensuring that they do not exceed these limits. Bus routes are designed to have as few standing passengers as possible within the set cost limits.
Safety actions for caregivers
To help make a school bus trip safe, caregivers who are dropping off / picking up students at the bus stop should:
- when dropping students off at the bus, get out of the car and go with them to the bus stop
- when collecting students, get out of the car and meet them as they get off the bus, on the same side of the road that the bus has stopped, and go with them to the car.
This will help to stop students running across the road to or from the bus into the path of passing traffic.
Caregivers should also spend time with students to help them understand how they can keep themselves safe and how they are expected to behave on the bus.
Safety actions for schools
Schools have a responsibility to support a safe environment for students getting on and off buses. They can help keep school buses safe by:
- deciding on and documenting a process for safe loading and unloading of students (in conjunction with the Police if expert advice needed)
- supervising loading and unloading every afternoon, and every morning if there are hazards (eg several buses unloading in the same area)
- posting a senior student or adult to signal to the driver when it is safe to turn and when it is not, if a bus is turning near a loading area
- giving students instruction on safe loading and unloading from buses and safe storage of school bags on buses
- working with the bus operators and caregivers around managing student behaviour on buses.
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Safety actions for bus drivers
There are a number of things that bus drivers do to help keep school buses safe:
Picking up and dropping off students
- Pick up/drop-off students on the left-hand side of the road.
- Load/unload students on the same side of the road as the school if possible.
- Wait for the all-clear from the duty teacher before departing on the home run.
On the road
- Report any inappropriate student behaviour to the school, bus controller or bus operator.
- Check the vehicle before each trip to make sure it is safe.
- Give students instruction on using the emergency door at least once a term.
- Check overloading.
Safety actions for students
Students who are given a place on a school bus can do a number of things to keep themselves and other students on the bus safe:
Getting on the bus
- Wait at the designated place – well back from the road.
- Wait until the bus has stopped before getting on.
- If there is more than one set of doors, get on through the door by the driver.
- Put your bag (and anything else you are carrying) under the seat or on your lap.
- If there are no free seats, fill the bus from the back, put your bag on the floor, and hold onto a handrail or seat-back.
Getting off the bus
- Wait until the bus has stopped.
- Get off the bus (through the front door if possible) carefully without pushing.
- Wait well back from the road until the bus has moved away. Then, if you need to cross, find a safe place where you can see clearly up and down the road.
- Carry your school bag in front of you when getting on and off the bus so it doesn’t get caught in the door.
- Stand well clear of the bus if it is turning or reversing.
- Don’t leave the bus between home and school (and vice versa) unless you have permission from the principal.
- Behave in an appropriate and safe way while on the bus (see the Behaviour on Buses section).
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Safety actions for the Ministry
When bus services are established, there is a tender process to contract a suitable bus operator to run the route. Most bus contracts have a standard length of 6 years, after which time they are re-tendered.
Bus operators are required to adhere to all relevant transport legislation, which are designed to ensure a high level of safety standards. As a further safeguard, the Ministry also requires as a part of the tender process:
- details of licences, driver training, the vehicles tendered, the vehicle maintenance programme, business experience, school transport experience, accounting systems, and so on
- technical advice on safety of individual vehicles from a representative of New Zealand Transport Agency.
During a tender process, the tendered cost is not considered until the Ministry is satisfied that the tenderer has met safety requirements.
Safety actions for the bus operator
The contract between the Ministry of Education and the bus operator requires the operator to provide a safe and reliable service, to observe all transport laws, regulations, and rules, and to make changes when they know a problem exists. Safety requirements in the contract include:
- which vehicles must be used
- up-to-date certificates of loading, fitness, and registration, plus road user charges paid
- bus to be clean and hygienic and comply with relevant legislation
- drivers must have current licence for the class of vehicle, and no medical condition that would affect a safe, reliable service
- drivers do not have any convictions relating to child abuse or abuse of alcohol or drugs
- loading limits (as specified in the certificate of loading) are not exceeded
- bus operator must hold insurance (public liability, vehicle, baggage)
- all appropriate laws, regulations, orders and rules are complied with.
- Not all school buses are required to be fitted with seatbelts. Where seats are fitted with a belt, the belt must be used.
- There is no requirement for all students to be seated on a bus. To clarify whether children can stand on the bus they are travelling on, refer to the loading certificate for that bus.
Safety actions for the service agents
The Ministry’s service agents are required to visit bus operators at least once a year to monitor contractual safety requirements, and contact them by telephone at least twice a year to discuss any safety issues. Service agents are also expected to communicate with schools regularly to stay informed of any safety concerns.
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Who else is involved in school bus safety standards?
New Zealand Transport Agency
New Zealand Transport Agency:
- sets vehicle standards
- identifies issues on vehicle design, construction, and maintenance
- checks vehicles for safety (together with vehicle inspection agents and the NZ Police)
- issues/declines passenger service licences, which are required for all school bus operators. Monitors operators to ensure they continue to meet criteria
- advises the Minister of Transport on transport safety matters and helps draft transport law
- works with NZ Police to produce guidelines and training for school traffic safety teams
- participates in school bus tendering evaluation including the identification of vehicles and/or operators with unsafe history.
Vehicle Certification Unit (VCU)
The VCU is part of New Zealand Transport Agency and it:
- appoints and monitors different types of vehicle inspectors
- writes the inspection manuals that inspectors use
- advises on certification issues
- investigates complaints about certifications
- liaises with the motor industry on vehicle certification issues.
New Zealand Police Youth Education Service
The NZ Police Youth Education Service:
- teaches students the bus warden system, which covers passenger safety, movement of students to and from the bus, and behaviour on the bus
- carries out checks (with VCU) on bus loadings and other legal requirements relating to bus use.
Vehicle Inspection Services
Providers of vehicle inspection services are responsible for:
- having a technical knowledge about mechanical safety points
- understanding the laws that apply to vehicles in New Zealand
- managing vehicle testing stations
- employing vehicle inspectors
- inspecting vehicles according to the various rules that apply to them
- issuing/or declining warrants and certificates of fitness
- providing information on the history of Certificate of Fitness (COF) inspection results for vehicles.
NZ Police Commercial Investigation Unit
The NZ Police Commercial Investigation Unit:
- polices all aspects of commercial vehicle use including vehicle and driver fitness, driving hours and logbooks, road user charges, vehicle, road and bridge limits, and vehicle dimensions
- attends and reports on commercial vehicle crashes.
Bus and Coach Association (New Zealand) Inc
The Bus and Coach Association:
- represents its members in dealings with the Ministry of Education and updates its members on issues such as law changes and new safety developments
- promotes a quality assurance scheme called Q-base, which is designed to make sure a vehicle is on the road at certificate of fitness standard every day it runs.