In the United States, state, national and local governments are entwined in the warp and woof of school bus service.
Because of the overriding concern for the safety of the youngsters it transports, the pupil transportation industry is one of the few enterprises that seek more rather than less government regulation.
The role of the federal government in the industry is not as great as the state governments, but without federal involvement the standardization that characterizes the industry would not exist. Generally speaking, the federal government developments regulations and guidelines about various aspects of school bus safety. Occasionally Congress enacts new legislation that affects the industry. Federal agencies in turn develop regulations. Unlike public mass transit, the federal government does not directly fund school transportation.
Most regulatory control occurs at the state level. Currently more than 500 laws, and countless regulations, are on the books of states in the United States governing some aspect of the industry. New ones are being added regularly.
Through the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, the federal government controls the manufacturing of school buses, ensuring they are built to exacting safety standards.
Once the buses are actually on the highway state laws and regulations take over and govern the operational aspects of school buses in service.
- The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is the leading federal agency ensuring school bus safety. It administers more than 60 federal motor vehicle safety standards, including several that apply specifically to school buses. Users will find numerous links to various NHTSA programs.
- The National Transportation Safety Board investigates catastrophic school bus accidents and issues various investigatory reports. In this section users will find summaries of all the major school bus accidents that NTSB has investigated, plus key studies by the Safety Board.
- The primary mission of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is to prevent commercial motor vehicle-related fatalities and injuries. School bus service falls within its purview. Indeed, the FMCSA is the first federal agency to focus its efforts on the operational side of school transportation. It contribute to ensuring safety in motor carrier operations through strong enforcement of safety regulations such as the Commercial Driver's License program, targeting high-risk carriers and commercial motor vehicle drivers; improving safety information systems and commercial motor vehicle technologies; strengthening commercial motor vehicle equipment and operating standards; and increasing safety awareness.
- The Federal Transit Administration administers the federal mass transit program. School bus service typically does not fall under the jurisdiction of the FTA. Public transit systems may transport students so long as the service doesn't violate the so-called "tripper" regulation. An estimed 15 percent of all trips by public transit, or about 1 billion unlinked passenger trips annually, are by students. This ridership data is similar to that on yellow school buses.
Listed here users will find two key regulatory initiatives that affect school buses and school transportation.
- A Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, or NPRM, is the method the federal government uses to notify citizens that new federal regulations are being proposed. NPRMs are first published in the daily federal register, and then the public is given a chance to comment on the proposal. Anyone may comment. Here, users will find the current crop of proposed rules that may one day apply to school buses and school transportation.
- Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards: In this section users will find a complete list of the 58 federal regulations governing motor vehicle safety. Of these 35 apply to school buses and several are exclusive to school buses. In addition, users will find data about Notices of Proposed Rulemaking. NPRMs are the method the federal government uses to notify citizens that new federal regulations are being proposed. Typically NPRM's appear in the Federal Register and remain open for comment from the public for several months. Here, users will find the current crop of proposed rules governing school buses, or school transportation. Users will also find a link to the federal government's Document Management System by which average citizens may comments on any regulatory proposal by any agency of the government.