Team 10: California has strict school bus driver requirements

Posted at 6:49 PM, Nov 22, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-22 21:49:34-05

SAN DIEGO - Amid the investigation into a horrific school bus crash in Tennessee, Team 10 discovered California has some of the strictest school bus regulations in the country.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, from 2005 to 2014, there were 304 school-age children who died in school transportation-related crashes.

Fifty-three were occupants of school transportation vehicles.

Meanwhile, becoming a school bus driver in California "is difficult," said school bus driver Beth Saldana. "It took me six months to become a school bus driver."

Saldana's been behind the wheel of a school bus for 23 years.

"Safety is my life because my students depend on it," she said.

Beth told Team 10 that before she was allowed to drive a school bus, she had to get past the DMV's permit process and test to obtain a commercial driver's license.

Then came training with the California Highway Patrol, a written test for the certificate and a first aid test, among other requirements.

"A lot of hours learning about the bus, how to drive, everything about the bus, every inch of the bus," Saldana said.

That training's important for everyday responsibilities.

Saldana said before a bus in her district leaves the yard, drivers have to walk through a 20-minute series of safety checks inside and outside the bus.

"It's not easy … we can't skip this," she said. "None of this can be skipped for the safety of our students and the safety of ourselves and everyone else out on the road. It has to be done on a daily basis."

According to the San Diego Unified School District's transportation website, "Drivers must be fingerprinted and tested for drugs/alcohol prior to employment. Employed drivers are randomly tested for drugs and alcohol. All school bus drivers must hold a Commercial Driver's License, Class B with a Passenger endorsement as well as an 'S' endorsement as required for school bus drivers in the United States. All California school bus drivers must hold a valid School Bus Driver Certificate and meet federal and state physical standards requirements."

Safety isn't just with the drivers, but improvements to the buses.

The site says all the vehicles must be maintained according to California Highway Patrol regulations and inspection criteria, and must meet all requirements under the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.

California is one of only six states in the country to require seatbelts and the only one to requires three-point seat belts on school buses manufactured on and after July 2005.

To learn more about the CHP's role in bus driver certification, click here.

To learn more about bus safety, click here.