It will be three years before old buses that do not meet federal safety standards are retired from the Davis School District fleet, the district's transportation director said.
Jack Graviet said that the 33 buses built before April 1, 1977, are scheduled to all be retired in three years. He said the district has, however, ordered emergency push-out windows to be installed in all of the pre-1977 buses to address concerns raised about the ability of students to escape in the event of an explosion or fire.At the same time, safety features like gas tank barriers and high-back padded seats will remain absent from the old buses.
"We hope to gradually get rid of our older fleet. It would be nice to do it on an accelerated schedule, but our budget won't allow it," Superintendent Richard Kendell said.
A Deseret News investigation in December found that almost one-third of Utah public school buses did not have safeguards like gas tank barriers that can help prevent explosions, high-back padded seats that keep children from being catapulted during a quick stop, highly-flammable seats and seats that prevented a quick escape through a single emergency door.
Graviet told school board members Tuesday night that presently 24 percent of Davis County buses do meet the federal standards. Of the 33 that were built before the standards came into effect, 15 are used on a regular basis. The rest include six activity buses which are used by high schools and spares used in case of a break down.
Graviet said the district will get 10 new buses in July, but only retire eight because of the student population growth in the district. Installing emergency window exits in the older buses will cost the district about $5,000.
"There is an inference that the older buses are not safe. They are in perfect condition and have modern safety features. In fact, they might be safer than the newer buses," Gra-viet said pointing out the durability of an older model truck in comparison to a newer one.
Graviet also told the school board that it would cost $8,400 per bus to install the higher padded seats in the old buses. The board has taken action on that matter. Graviet also said the district has no plans to barricade gas tanks on the older buses because of both the cost - $1,500 per bus - and the fact that bus companies invalidate warranties if the steel frame is drilled into to install the tank cages.
In a presentation to the board, Graviet cited the safety record of school buses. The last fatality on a Utah school bus occurred in 1938, Graviet said.
Recently Board Member Robert Thurgood raised the issue of safety of the six activity buses used by district high schools including the qualifications of coaches to drive them to games. He was concerned that a coach concerned with a game might become distracted while driving the bus.
Graviet said coaches involved in a contest do not drive the buses there. Usually other coaches drive the buses. He said that 73 coaches in the six high schools have been given the same training as his bus drivers. Graviet said the current arrangement, motivated by savings to district schools, could be changed to allow regular buses and drivers take teams to activities.
Kendell said the district will search for a way to make it cost-effective for the high schools to use regular buses and drivers.