NSTA recommended to the FMCSA that it remove school buses from a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for Electronic On-Board Recorders (EOBRs) because the requirement would be financially burdensome for private contractors while resulting in little if any safety benefits for students.
The May 23 letter submitted by NSTA Executive Director David Hobson noted that there have been zero recorded student fatalities in “regulated operations,” or those performed by private bus companies that must comply with FMCSA rules. And, Hobson added, there have been no recorded student deaths tied to school bus driver fatigue over the same period.
FMCSA is seeking to require EOBRs as a replacement for records of duty status, or RODS, that some commercial operators must keep on their drivers. FMCSA has laid out several options for short-haul operators, or those who travel within a 100-mile radius. EOBRs could be used on specific days when drivers exceed short-haul limits or at all times. FMCSA could also define thresholds above which drivers who exceed short-haul limits must use EOBRs. Also up for consideration are requiring all short-haul drivers to use EOBRs regardless if they always remain within the 100-mile radius or exempting short-haul drivers from the regulation altogether.
NSTA’s comment argued that 49 U.S.C. 395.8 (as noted on page 8 of the FMCSA’s Interstate Passenger Carrying Driver’s Guide to Hours of Service) already exempts private school bus drivers operating home to school routes from RODS because they operate short-haul trips. While private school bus contractors that engage in interstate school activity trips or charter trips must comply with FMCSA regulations, Hobson added that only about 1 percent of these school bus operations fall within the proposed EOBR regulation for interstate trips of longer than 100 miles.
Additionally, Hobson said an NSTA survey found that members reported that only 4 percent of their school bus trips are either interstate or intrastate activity trips, whether those are within 100 miles or not.
Then there is the cost of EOBRs. NSTA estimated that purchasing the equipment could initially cost its members $14 million and $6.3 million each year thereafter to pay monthly service fees and maintenance.
FMCSA published the NPRM on Dec. 23 with a goal to complete a final rule by July 26. The adminstration’s main focus on EOBRs for the passenger-carrying commercial motor vehicles mainly falls on motorcoaches, one of seven safety enhancements called for in the U.S. DOT’s Motorcoach Safety Action Plan. NSTA asked FMCSA to recognize the distinction between school buses and motorcoaches, namely that school buses and their drivers are currently governed by higher federal and state safety standards.
The original public comment period ended in March but was extended to May 23 following a lawsuit brought by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association against the U.S. Department of Transportation alledging that EOBRs could potentially be used to harass commercial drivers.
A final rule is expected by the end of July. Once published, motor carriers would have three years to comply with the requirement. NSTA concluded that, if private school bus companies are required to install EOBRs, FMCSA should set the compliance date for the student transportation industry at five years because school bus contractors often work under contract with school districts in five-year increments. NSTA added that contractors are rarely able to recoup additional expenses tied to mandated equipment by passign this cost onto school district customers.