Pupil Transportation > FAQs: General Information

The Danger Zone is a 10-foot-wide area on all sides of a school bus – an area where children are in the most danger of being hit. Children should stay 10 feet away from the bus (or as far away as they can) to be out of the Danger Zone and never go behind the bus. They should take five giant steps in front of the bus before crossing so the driver can see them. Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).   Danger Zone graphic

School Bus Safety7/30/2015 7:58 AMWhat is a school bus "Danger Zone"?

For 2002, 8243 buses are used by Alabama's public school systems.  Approximately 1300 of these buses are spares.  Most of these buses are 71-72 passenger vehicles and weigh approximately 13-15 tons.

Alabama School Bus Statistics7/30/2015 8:12 AMHow many school buses are in operation in Alabama?

On May 14, 2012, Governor Robert Bentley signed Alabama Act 2012-372 into law. This act amends Section 16-27-4 of the Code of Alabama to include the requirement for school bus driver physical examinations. The amended section of the Code is 16-27-4.1. Further, on June 14, 2012, the Alabama State Board of Education approved an Emergency Rule 290- 2-4-.08, which provides further direction with respect to implementation of the law.

Bus Driver Physical Examinations7/30/2015 8:20 AMWhat is the statutory authority that requires school bus driver physical examinations?

School bus transportation is one of the safest forms of transportation in the United States. Every year, approximately 440,000 public school buses travel approximately 4.3 billion miles to transport 23.5 million children to and from school and school-related activities. Between 1988 and 1998, there were about 416,000 fatal traffic crashes in the United States. Of those, only 1,265 were classified as school bus-related. (NHTSA)

Riding an Alabama school bus you are much less likely to be involved in a collision than riding in any other type of vehicle.  If involved in a collision, you are much less likely to suffer an injury.  School buses are involved in only 3/10 of one percent of all Alabama accidents.  Alabama school bus drivers are among the best trained in the United States. State law requires all drivers to hold a Commercial Driver License (CDL) and an Alabama School Bus Driver Certificate. State and Federal laws require background checks and random drug testing for bus drivers.  Alabama school buses are among the safest and best maintained in the country. Under Alabama law, school buses are inspected monthly by local system personnel and annually by state school bus inspectors employed by the Alabama Department of Education. 

Nationally, a school bus is 172 times safer than a passenger car, 8 times safer than a passenger train or scheduled airline, and 4 times safer than a transit bus.

School Bus Safety7/30/2015 8:00 AMHow safe is school bus transportation?

Over 374,000 students ride Alabama buses to and from school each day.   This calculates to almost 66 million student rides annually.

Alabama School Bus Statistics7/30/2015 8:12 AMHow many students ride Alabama buses?

Anyone who operates a school bus transporting Alabama public schoolchildren must have a physical examination before being allowed to drive. The physical examination must be reported to their local school system on a form prescribed by the SDE (Alabama School Bus Driver Physical Examination Report). This form is available from the local school system, the Pupil Transportation Section of the SDE, or online at www.alsde.edu/sec/pt/

Bus Driver Physical Examinations7/30/2015 8:23 AMWho is required to have a physical examination?

No. Rather than requiring safety belts, the NHTSA decided that the best way to provide crash protection for children on a school bus is through a concept called "compartmentalization." Compartmentalization provides a safety zone by using strong, closely spaced seats, energy-absorbing seat backs, and padding to protect school children if a crash occurs. Additionally, school buses must conform to other stringent safety standards required by the federal government and the State of Alabama.  In addition to compartmentalization requirements, these standards include requirements for rollover protection, joint and roof strength, fuel system integrity, and a host of other safety features.  Since statistically more injuries occur outside the school bus, not inside the bus, the Federal Government has not set a standard or guideline supporting the use of seat belts.

School Bus Safety7/30/2015 8:02 AMDo all school buses have safety belts?

There is no requirement to "retire" school buses after so many years in the state of Alabama.  However, most school systems remove their buses from regular service after about ten years.  The Alabama Fleet Renewal Program provides local school systems funding for each school bus in their fleet that is ten years old or less.  This funding is provided for a maximum of ten years.  Over 92% of Alabama's school buses are ten years old or less.

Alabama School Bus Statistics7/30/2015 8:13 AMAre buses retired after a certain time?

The driver must have a physical examination and renew the physical examination form every two years unless the examining physician or local school system require it more frequently.

Bus Driver Physical Examinations7/30/2015 8:24 AMHow often must the physical examination be renewed?

Federal regulations do not specify the number of children that can safely sit on a school bus seat. However, in determining the maximum seating capacity of a school bus, school bus manufacturers base their determination on seating three small elementary school-age children on a typical 39-inch school bus seat. (NHTSA)

School Bus Safety7/30/2015 8:03 AMWhat is the maximum number of children that can safely sit on a school bus seat?

The driver is responsible for the cost of the examination. However, if the driver has insurance, their provider may pay for the examination less any co-pay.

Bus Driver Physical Examinations7/30/2015 8:24 AMWho is responsible for the cost of the physical examination?

An average of 30 school-age children die in school bus-related traffic crashes each year – 9 as school bus occupants and 22 as pedestrians. (NHTSA)  In Alabama, only one student has been killed in a school bus collision since 1969.

School Bus Safety7/30/2015 8:04 AMWhat about school bus-related fatalities?

School bus drivers that are employed by a local school system on or before May 14, 2012 have until August 14, 2012 to be in compliance. All other school bus drivers must be in compliance before being allowed to transport students.

Bus Driver Physical Examinations7/30/2015 8:25 AMWhen must the initial physical examination be performed?

For 23.5 million students nationwide and 374,000 Alabama students, the school day begins and ends with a trip on a school bus. Students' greatest risk is not in riding the bus, but in getting to the bus or entering or leaving it. Motorists need to be aware of the risks. (NHTSA) Follow these safety steps:

  1. When backing out of a driveway or leaving a garage, watch out for children walking or bicycling to school.
  2. When driving in neighborhoods with school zones, watch for children traveling to school. They are unpredictable in their actions, and it is your responsibility to anticipate and react to what they might do.
  3. Drive slowly. Watch for children walking in the street, especially if there are no sidewalks in the neighborhood.
  4. Watch for children playing and gathering near school bus stops.
  5. Be alert. Children arriving late for a school bus may dart into the street without looking for traffic.
  6. Never pass on the right side of a school bus where children enter or exit. This is illegal.
  7. Learn the flashing light system that school bus drivers use to alert motorists about stopping:
    • Yellow flashing lights mean the bus is preparing to stop and load or unload children. Motorists need to slow down and prepare to stop.
    • Red flashing lights and an extended stop arm mean the bus has stopped and children are boarding or exiting the bus. Motorists must come to a complete stop a safe distance from the bus and wait until the red lights stop flashing, the stop arm is retracted, and the bus begins moving before they start driving again.
School Bus Safety7/30/2015 8:10 AMWhat can motorists do to help ensure the safety of students riding school buses?

Drivers holding a current DOT Medical Examiner’s Certificate (DOT Medical Card) should complete the appropriate sections of the Alabama School Bus Driver Physical Examination Report and return it to their local school system along with a copy of their DOT Medical Examiner Certificate. The signed documents will be stapled together and accepted in lieu of another physical.

Bus Driver Physical Examinations7/30/2015 8:26 AMI have a DOT Medical Examiner’s Certificate. What must I do to comply with the law?

A school bus-related crash involves, either directly or indirectly, a school bus-type of vehicle, or a vehicle functioning as a school bus, transporting children to or from school or school-related activities. (NHTSA)

School Bus Safety7/30/2015 8:11 AMWhat is a school bus-related crash?

Drivers holding a valid Alabama School Bus Driver Certificate may be grandfathered in for any condition noted on the Alabama School Bus Driver Physical Examination Report provided the driver's submitted examination form states the following: (a) A written statement from their medical examiner that the any condition the driver has will not adversely affect his or her ability to control and safely operate a school bus and (b) signed written waiver. The Alabama School Bus Driver Physical Examination Report includes a section for both the written statement and signed waiver

Bus Driver Physical Examinations7/30/2015 8:27 AMMay the examining physician allow for a waiver for a condition listed on the Alabama School Bus Driver Physical Examination Report?

All school systems can provide accident information on their school buses.  Additionally, the Alabama Department of Education maintains records on accidents involving school buses.

School Bus Safety7/30/2015 8:14 AMHow can I find out the safety record for school buses in my school system?

Any driver, including tenured drivers, who cannot pass the required physical examination, may not be permitted to operate a school bus transporting students to or from school or school-related events. The law does not require a local board of education to take any particular employment action with regard to a school bus driver who is not physically qualified. However, since the driver is no longer physically qualified to transport students, the local board of education must not permit them to drive and may also take whatever action it deems necessary in accordance with state and federal law. Loss of employment is a possibility.

Bus Driver Physical Examinations7/30/2015 8:28 AMWhat action should a school system take when a bus driver fails to pass the physical examination for a school bus driver?

Training for new school bus drivers is provided by each local school system.   School systems screen and train potential drivers after which the driver must attend a twelve-hour school bus driver class conducted by the SDE.  During this class drivers receive additional training from the Alabama School Bus Driver Handbook provided by SDE instructors.  Drivers must successfully complete a written test and performance test following this class to receive an Alabama School Bus Driver Certificate.  Drivers must also complete four hours of SDE training annually in order to maintain their certification.  Additional in-service training is provided each year by local school systems.

School Bus Safety7/30/2015 8:14 AMWhat training is offered to bus drivers?

If the doctor that performed the earlier physical will complete and sign the Alabama School Bus Driver Physical Examination Report, the results of the earlier physical examination will be accepted. However, if the physician cannot or will not complete and sign the form, another physical examination must be performed and documented on the form.

Bus Driver Physical Examinations7/30/2015 8:29 AMIf a driver had a physical performed prior to May 14, 2012 (say April 15, 2012) does the driver have to go back and take another physical?

If they transport students on an Alabama school bus, they must have the physical examination. Drivers who are on “Inactive Status” (not driving) will not be required to have the physical examination until they return to “Active Status” and again start transporting students.

Bus Driver Physical Examinations7/30/2015 8:29 AMDo substitute school bus drivers and/or mechanics have to take the physical examination?

No. SDE requirements to attend a new driver certification classes will remain the same as they have been in the past. Even so, no one may be permitted to transport students until they have a physical examination report form on file with their local board of education, even though they may be issued an Alabama School Bus Driver Certificate by the SDE. Failure comply will result in drivers losing their certificate.

Bus Driver Physical Examinations7/30/2015 8:30 AMMust a new driver applicant have a physical form on file before attending an SDE new driver certification class?

The DOT will not allow for grandfathering, as does Alabama’s new law. Without grandfathering, many drivers with a condition that would not adversely affect the driver’s ability to control and safely operate a school bus would not be able to drive a school bus. Also, waivers through DOT are difficult and time consuming to receive. Additionally, physical examinations for a DOT Medical Examiner’s Certificate may not be covered by most insurance providers.

Bus Driver Physical Examinations7/30/2015 8:31 AMWhy not just require a DOT Medical Examiner’s Certificate instead of this law?

It will be the driver’s responsibility to provide a copy of the Alabama School Bus Driver Physical Examination Report to each school system for which he/she drives

Bus Driver Physical Examinations7/30/2015 8:31 AMCan information about a driver’s physical be shared between school systems?

Yes. However, contract drivers are not exempt from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulations and must hold DOT Medical Examiner Certificates. Since DOT Medical Examiner Certificates may be accepted by local boards of education in lieu of the state’s physical examination, contract drivers will only need to complete and sign the and return it to their local board of education along with a copy of their DOT Medical Examiner Certificate. Subsequently, an out-of-state license holder driver transporting Alabama schoolchildren is required to possess a current DOT Medical Examiner’s Certificate.

Bus Driver Physical Examinations7/30/2015 8:32 AMDo drivers working for a contract company have to comply with this law?

Neither the law nor the State Board of Education Rule require that school bus drivers carry a copy of the Certificate of Compliance while driving a school bus. However, it is recommended because law enforcement officers may require proof that the driver has a current physical report on file.

Bus Driver Physical Examinations7/30/2015 8:32 AMDo the drivers have to carry the Certificate of Compliance with them?

The law states that the forms are to be kept in the “central office of the department.” The SDE interprets this to mean that these records may be kept in any secure location designated by the local superintendent of education, including the transportation office.

Bus Driver Physical Examinations7/30/2015 8:33 AMWhere must physical report forms be filed?
The Pupil Transportation FAQs page provides answers to frequently asked questions concerning Pupil Transportation in Alabama.