New York State is strengthening its law requiring school bus drivers to submit to random drug and alcohol screening.
Current state and federal law does call for such testing, but it does not include Class C bus drivers who drive smaller school buses. The new law includes that class of drivers, which represents about a third of the 51,000 school bus drivers in New York State.
Peter Mannella, executive director of the New York Association of Pupil Transportation, says the state legislature started working on changes to the law four years ago when several drivers were apprehended for impaired driving.
“We’re constantly focusing on this,” he said, “so, when we talk about we had four that one year, this industry was reeling; that’s not something that we do. Bus drivers are attentive and good to their kids and prepared for the road, so we saw an urgent situation and tried to correct it.”
Manella said student safety is always on the minds of school districts and bus companies, some of which were already voluntarily conducting random drug and alcohol screening for drivers.
“If a driver walks in, in the morning or in the afternoon run, and they’ve had a couple of beers for lunch, which they shouldn’t do, the dispatcher or the head bus driver is alert to, ‘You don’t look right,’ and they will pull them off the routes.”
Under the new legislation, school bus drivers may not drink alcohol or use any other substance that could cause impairment eight hours before their shift.
The cost for school district drug testing will be eligible for state reimbursement. The previous limit was six hours. The new law goes into effect at the end of 2018.