We have been contacted by several clients about the pending effective date of SB 1072, which was signed by the Governor on September 27, 2016. The bill, which is also known as the Paul Lee School Bus Safety Law, was named for a 19 year-old non-verbal student with autism who was left unattended and died on a school bus in Whittier after outside temperatures reached almost 100 degrees. While the full bill requires such measures as adoption of a transportation safety plan and new training requirements, the provision about which most districts have expressed concern is the addition of Vehicle Code § 28160, which requires the installation of child safety alert systems on school buses.
Some districts understood the statute’s effective date to be July 1, 2018, and have been trying to get all such safety alert systems installed by that date. Districts have found, however, that the companies that could install this equipment were backed up with orders, so that that date was not realistic. There was an attempt to get a bill adopted that would delay the effective date, but it apparently was unsuccessful.
Provisions of SB 1072
The law (which was signed by the Governor back in 2016) added Vehicle Code § 28160, subd. (a) gave “the department” until January 1, 2018 to “adopt regulations governing the specifications, installation, and use of child safety alert systems.” These devices are designed to detect motion in a bus after a certain period of time that the bus has been parked, and when motion is detected, will both notify an adult at the site where the bus is parked that a child has been left on the bus, and audibly assure the child that he or she should remain in place because an adult has been summoned and will arrive shortly. Because this statute is found in the Vehicle Code, “the department” refers to the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Subdivision (b)(1) of the statute then provides, “On or before the beginning of the 2018-19 school year, each schoolbus, school pupil activity bus . . . . youth bus, and child care motor vehicle shall be equipped with an operational child safety alert system.” Thus, the effective date of § 28160 is the beginning of the upcoming school year, which for most districts will be some time in mid-August, depending on the calendar that a given district has adopted.
Subdivision (b)(2) then provides, however, that the requirements of subdivision (b)(1)—requiring installation of the safety devices—do not apply if a lengthy list of alternative requirements are met. They are spelled out in subdivision (b)(2)(A) through (b)(2)(H), as follows.
First, a safety device does not need to be installed on any bus not used exclusively to transport pupils. Some schools and some bus companies rent their buses to third parties for, e.g., weekend transportation not involving pupil transportation, and any such bus would therefore not be affected by the new law.
If the bus is used exclusively to transport students, installation of the devices is still not required if a district does all of the following instead:
- The pupils are accompanied by at least one adult chaperone selected by a school official. If that chaperone is not a school employee, he or she must meet the requirements for a school volunteer established by the policies of the school district.
- The adult chaperone has a list of every pupil and adult chaperone, including a school employee, who is on the school pupil activity bus at the time of departure.
- The driver has reviewed all safety and emergency procedures before the initial departure and the driver and adult chaperone have signed a form with the time and date acknowledging that the safety plan and procedures were reviewed. (Note: This is a one-time requirement, not something that must be done before every trip.)
- Immediately before departure from any location, the adult chaperone shall account for each pupil on the list of pupils, verify the number of pupils to the driver, and sign a form indicating that all pupils are present or accounted for.
- After pupils have exited a school pupil activity bus, and before driving away, the driver shall check all areas of the bus, including, but not limited to, overhead compartments and bathrooms, to ensure that the bus is vacant.
- The driver shall sign a form with the time and date verifying that all required procedures have been followed.
- The information required to be recorded as required elsewhere in subdivision (b)(2) may be recorded on a single form. These forms must be retained by the district for a minimum of two years.
There is thus an “extension” already provided for in the statute—namely, that an adult chaperone accompany bus drivers on any bus that is not equipped with the devices by the beginning of the school year. Hopefully, by not having to comply until the beginning of this school year (instead of July 1, and by being able to use the chaperone system as a work-around, and perhaps getting at least some of their buses equipped with the devices by the beginning of the 2018-19 school year, districts will be able to comply with § 28160.
Incidentally, because this statute is found in the Vehicle Code and not the Education Code, its requirements apply to all school buses used in California except those exempted as set forth above. Thus, these requirements also apply to county offices, charter schools, and even private schools.
Legal Update written by Frank Zotter, Jr., Senior Associate General Counsel
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The information in this Legal Update is provided as a summary of law and is not intended as legal advice. Application of the law may vary depending on the particular facts and circumstances at issue. We, therefore, recommend that you consult legal counsel to advise you on how the law applies to your specific situation.
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