BEIJING – The School Bus Safety Rules (draft for solicitation) was released by the Legislation Office of the State Council on December 11, in response to recent accidents involving improper use of school buses.
It came two weeks after Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao personally requested on November 27 that such regulations be drafted and released to the public within a month, and most likely will be put into effect on January 1, 2012.
According to the Rules, a school bus is defined as an authorized bus with more than seven seats that is used for the delivery of kindergarten, elementary and middle school children and students who receive pre-school and compulsory education. School buses must apply for a special school bus label in addition to passing national standards and regular vehicle inspection, and are restricted to an operational life of eight years or 200,000 km, whichever comes first. A compulsory safety technology inspection will also be conducted twice a year.
It also specifies responsibilities of different departments that oversee the management of school buses, school bus and driver requirements, as well as special privileges school buses will enjoy during operation.
Clearer allocation of responsibilities
According to the Rules, China will support the provision of school bus services for students receiving compulsory education in rural areas through financial aid, preferential tax treatment as well as social donation. Central and local governments should share responsibility of providing financial aid needed for the development of school buses, with the State Council responsible for promulgating detailed measures.
The Rules also stipulates different responsibilities among the different state-level departments that oversee the safety of school buses. Local governments at county level and above will take the overall responsibility for the safety of school buses, while the education departments will be in charge of verification of applications for the use of school buses by local schools and investigate schools that break the rules. Public security departments will be mainly responsible for reviewing school bus technology requirements and driver qualification, issuing vehicle registrations and school bus labels, and removing unauthorized school buses from operation. Other departments such as transport, industry and information technology, product quality supervision and safety production supervision should perform their respective duties and cooperate closely in the management of school bus safety, according to the Rules.
Ultimately, schools and school bus operators will be responsible for ensuring the safety of school buses they operate. They must co-establish an effective safety management system to strengthen the efforts of safety maintenance of school buses.
Tougher driver requirements
The Rules requires that school bus drivers meet the following criteria:
• Over three years of driving experience and under 60 years old;
• No maximum driver points in the last three point cycles;
• No accidents involving deaths or serious injuries;
• No records of drunk driving or driving while under the influence of alcohol and operating a vehicle over the passenger capacity or speed limit;
• No records of criminal offenses or imprisonment
• Healthy without any records of binge drinking, drug use, sexually transmitted disease, epilepsy, mental illness or any other medical records that endanger the safety operation of a vehicle.
Special privileges and stiff penalties
Similar to what is done in the U.S., school buses in China will also enjoy special privileges when in operation. For example, occupied school buses have the right of way; can run in Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) lanes and other dedicated lanes normally off-limits to individual vehicles; when a school bus stops to pick up or drop off students, vehicles on both sides of the street must stop to let the students cross the street first. Drivers that break the rule will be fined a maximum of ¥500 ($78).
Stiff penalties will be levied to those responsible for the improper assembly, sales and operation of school buses. Some of these penalties include:
• A fine of at least twice and no more than four times the value of the vehicle for improper production and sales of school bus. Related income will be confiscated;
• For illegally assembled school buses, the driver will be fined between ¥1,000 and ¥2,000 and license revoked, and the owner of the vehicle will be fined between ¥20,000 and ¥50,000;
• Owners of school buses without the required label or qualified drivers will be fined between ¥5,000 and ¥20,000;
• Schools or school bus operators that do not provide school buses with the required safety equipment will be fined between ¥1,000 and ¥10,000;
• Owners of school buses that do not operate within the required route will be fined a maximum ¥500;
• Entities that sell or borrow fake school bus labels will be fined between ¥5,000 and ¥20,000;
• Drivers without the required qualifications will be fined between ¥5,000 and ¥20,000.