Who Needs Bus Driver Certification?

By Dr. Carol Simpson, Of Counsel

Eichelbaum Wardell Hansen Powell & Mehl, P.C.

Texas Education Code § 34.007 allows (but does not require) a district to operate “an economical public school transportation system.”  That same section requires that all bus drivers must be certified in accordance with Texas Department of Public Safety rules.  Employees who drive regular bus routes must be certified by the DPS or be currently enrolled in an approved school bus safety education course.  Tex. Transp. Code § 521.022(e).  Because some employees who are not regular bus route drivers, especially extra-curricular coaches, must sometimes transport students, it is important to know if they must also hold school bus driver certification. The answer to the question is found by a combination of the Texas Transportation Code and the Texas Administrative Code.

Title 37 of the Texas Administrative Code defines the three types of buses that must be driven by someone with school bus certification:

Multifunction school activity bus--A motor vehicle that . . . [does not] display alternately flashing red lights and [nor is it] equipped with movable stop arms, and that is used to transport pre-primary, primary, or secondary students on a school-related activity trip other than on routes to and from school. The term does not include a school bus, a school activity bus, a school-chartered bus, or a bus operated by a mass transit authority.

 School activity bus--A bus designed to accommodate more than 15 passengers, including the operator, . . . and that is used to transport public school students on a school-related activity trip, other than on routes to and from school. The term does not include a chartered bus, a bus operated by a mass transit authority, a school bus, or a multifunction school activity bus.

 School bus--A motor vehicle that . . . [displays alternately flashing red lights and has movable stop arms] and is used to transport pre-primary, primary, or secondary students on a route to or from school or on a school-related activity trip other than on routes to and from school. The term does not include a school-chartered bus or a bus operated by a mass transit authority.

37 Tex. Admin. Code § 14.1(7-9) (emphasis added).  Neither the definition of Multifunction school activity bus nor School bus mentions how many students the bus can hold, so either of those could be of very small capacity, i.e. <15 passengers including the driver.  Note also that only the definition of a School bus mandates flashing lights and a stop arm.  

The same section of the Administrative Code defines a school bus driver:

School bus driver--A driver transporting school children and/or school personnel on routes to and from school or on a school-related activity trip while operating a multifunction school activity bus, school activity bus, or school bus.  37 Tex. Admin. Code § 14.1(10).

The difference between the three bus definitions is highlighted in the chart below that includes for comparison an SUV-type vehicle such as a Suburban or Expedition. The Texas standards for the four configurations of school buses (types A,B,C, and D) may be found here: https://texreg.sos.state.tx.us/fids/201803019-1.pdf.  A Multifunction activity bus is usually shaped like a regular school bus (one of the many configurations and profiles).  They are NOT school bus yellow, and are usually white, or painted the school’s colors.  The School activity bus doesn’t look like a school bus; it may look like a Greyhound bus or a city transit bus.  

Flashing lights and stop arm

Regular routes to and from school

School-related activity trip

National School Bus Yellow?

Driver certification?

Multifunction activity bus

No

No

Yes

No, prohibited

Yes

School activity bus

No

No

Yes

No rule

Yes

School bus

Yes

Yes

Yes

Required

Yes

SUV < 15 passengers incl. driver

No

No

Yes

No rule

No

But back to coaches driving buses.  Some districts require all coaches to have bus driver certification.  In that event, the coach can drive whatever vehicle is available to transport the team.  Some districts, however, rely on coaches to drive only vehicles that do not require school bus driver certification, such as SUVs.  In such a case, the coach cannot drive a school bus with a capacity of under 15 passengers, also known as a “short bus,” if that bus is used to drive bus routes.  If the coach is going to drive a team of 13 or fewer participants, the coach will have to drive an SUV-type vehicle owned by the school. That type of vehicle will be the only “bus” that a coach without bus driver certification can drive.

 

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