Vermont School Bus idling Rule
Idle-Free VT had been contacted about and observed first hand several violations of the Vermont School Bus Idling Rule, which prohibits school bus idling in the manner of "upon arrival at student loading or unloading areas on school grounds, and shall not restart the engine until the bus is loaded or unloaded and is ready to depart", and limits all idling to "five (5) minutes in a sixty (60) minute period on school grounds". In 2010, incidents were reported at the Hinesburg Community School, Hinesburg, Deerfield Valley Elementary School, Wilmington, and a Winooski school.
Be aware that this law was enacted first and foremost to protect the health of students. The EPA's Clean School Bus USA website states: "Children are more susceptible to air pollution than healthy adults because their respiratory systems are still developing and they have a faster breathing rate."
Compliance issues most often stem from misinterpretation of the Rule. Bus drivers, transportation contractors, superintendents, school board members, school principals and transportation directors may not be following the letter of the law. For instance, in violation of the Rule, a transportation director has arbitrarily been placing a temperature exemption on when buses can idle while loading or unloading students. There is no temperature exemption; after buses have warmed up away from the loading point, they are not to idle once they pull up to load or unload students on school grounds. However, the Rule does list exceptions: to operate special equipment for disabled persons; when vehicle is being serviced, and a broader exception, "when the engine is required to operate safety equipment other than lighting systems, such as windshield defrosters, and the operation of the equipment is necessary at that time to address specific safety, traffic, health, or emergency concerns."
To understand why it is rarely necessary for school buses to idle, visit the EPA Clean School Bus anti-idling webpage. Be sure to read about the Idling Myths (click on blue box).
In March 2008, shortly before the rule became effective, the Agency of Education, which oversees the Rule, issued a clarifying memo to superintendents, school board members, school principals and transportation directors, excerpted as follows (italics and quotes added by Idle-Free VT):
"Please note 6005. We urge school principals and school boards to convey helpful information to parents and students to alleviate any inconvenience or confusion that could result from changes in past practices. Students may need to dress appropriately for a cooler bus ride, especially when boarding a bus in the afternoon to leave school. Parents should be advised that there are provisions for exceptions, and that when not loading or unloading students buses may idle for up to five minutes on school grounds.
A common misunderstanding came to light during the rulemaking process. Some bus drivers and transportation contractors believe that the interior cabin temperature of a school bus must be maintained at 55° F or above. That is not correct. In fact, the Health department does not support a minimum cabin temperature. The misunderstanding may stem from the requirements of buses for state inspection. However, there is not a requirement to keep the cabin warm, and keeping the cabin warm is not normally considered a 'safety or health' justification for idling."
On August 26, 2011, another clarification was issued by the AOE to Superintendents, School Board members, School Principals, Transportation Directors (italics and quotes added by Idle-Free VT):
"To put it simply, buses are to be turned off while loading and unloading students at the school. If a bus is parked on school grounds during a sporting event or for any other reason, it is to be turned off. Idling is unnecessary, adds costs, is unhealthy, and pollutes.
We urge school principals to convey information not only to drivers, but also to parents and students. Students need to dress appropriately for outdoor temperatures. Drivers and parents should be advised that there are limited provisions for exceptions, and that when not loading or unloading, buses may only idle for up to five minutes on school grounds.
There are common misconceptions that lead to violations of the law. Modern engines do not need to be idled for long periods of time to operate properly. Interior cabin temperatures do not need to be warm. Some bus drivers and transportation contractors believe that the interior cabin temperature of a school bus must be maintained at 55° F or above. That is not correct. In fact, the Health department does not support a minimum cabin temperature. The misunderstanding may stem from the equipment requirements for state inspection. However, there is not a requirement to keep the cabin warm, and keeping the cabin warm is not normally considered a “safety or health” justification for idling.
Violation of 23 V.S.A. § 1282 is a traffic violation, 23 V.S.A. § 2302((a)(3). The penalty/fines are pursuant to 4 V.S.A. § 1102(d)."
Anyone with questions or concerns about possible Rule violations at a school should — armed with the facts above — first contact the school's principal. If not satisfied, the next step is to contact their school board, and/or supervisory union/school district superintendent. As a last resort, contact Clare O'Shaughnessy, Staff Attorney of the Agency of Education (AOE). Idle-Free VT would also like to know about compliance issues: firstname.lastname@example.org
TIP: Hold your breath (seriously)
It is suggested for parents to consider suggesting to their children — at least from 4th grade on — to hold their breath for up to 30 seconds when within about 30 feet of an idling school bus they are about to board, especially if approaching from the rear or if a caravan of idling buses are present. Once on the bus they can breathe again. In the same manner, if the bus is idling when they exit, hold their breath until away from the bus.