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Tennessee may require child reminder
alarm on school buses

By Claudette Riley
The Tennessean (Nashville)

Future Tennessee school buses may come with an alarm that requires drivers to immediately walk to the back of the bus every time they turn off the engine.

If they don't walk to the back wall to push a button within one minute, an alarm will go off.

It's an effort to reduce the number of small or sleeping children left on buses every year during the heat of the day or overnight.

The child reminder alarm, which costs $75, is one of the safety upgrades the Tennessee Association for Pupil Transportation wants to see required on all new school buses.

''It's terrible that we have to do that, but frankly (drivers) don't walk to the back of the bus every time,'' said Larry Riggsbee, spokesman for the association and transportation supervisor for Sumner County.

The changes are based on national bus safety guidelines published in 2000. Other proposals include requiring a crossing arm on all new buses – a large metal arm that extends from the front bumper whenever a child exits the bus – and better brakes and allowing districts to purchase conventional 72-passenger buses – which exceeds the current limit of 66-passenger buses.

About 9,000 school buses are on Tennessee roadways every school day, and about 10% of the fleet is replaced each year. Only the new buses would have to comply with the changes.
''We're talking about new bus specifications,'' Riggsbee said. ''None of what we're doing suggests you go back and retrofit.''

If the State Board of Education approves the changes at the April board meeting, new Tennessee school buses would be updated to the national standards set in 2000. The last revision was in 1990.

''We'd like to have them updated,'' Riggsbee said. ''Quite frankly, the industry has changed so much.''

Some state board members were supportive of the proposed changes and vowed to take another look at them in the coming weeks.

''We've got some good recommendations here,'' said Fielding Rolston, vice chairman of the board.

Only Hubert McCullough, chairman of the board, expressed concerns about making all districts adhere to the possible changes.

''We're trying to make everybody the same and they're not. The locals are paying for the majority of it,'' said McCullough, who stopped short of saying he wouldn't support the changes. ''We've got time to think about it.''