West Virginia BOE considers higher speed limit for school buses

WHEELING — A move to increase the maximum speed West Virginia school buses can travel to 70 mph has hit a bump in the road, but may not be parked.

School buses in the state are equipped with governors that prohibit them from going faster than 65 mph.

The West Virginia Board of Education this month tabled a rule change to raise the adjustment to 70 mph.

State educators are questioning whether there is a justifiable need to permit the buses to go faster when in heavy interstate traffic, or when there is a question of safety.

“Policy 4334 was tabled because board members had questions and requested additional clarification on a few parts of the policy,” said Kristin Anderson, executive director of communications for the West Virginia Department of Education. “As a result of the questions presented, the board will hear a presentation on bus safety from industry experts at the September Board meeting. The timing for when the policy will come back before the board is to be determined.”

Dave Smith, transportation director for Marshall County Schools, explained buses come directly from the factories with their governors set at 65 mph.

“They can be adjusted to run faster, but not legally by law,” he said. “We do not mess with anything like that.”

Smith agrees it can make for a safety issue when a bus is traveling in 70 mph traffic and can go only 65 mph.

“You’re running as fast as you can, and somebody comes right up on your back end,” he said. “I think 65 mph is good a speed. But I don’t like the other traffic coming up on us. They don’t realize we can’t get out of the way.”

He supports raising the speed limit, but not removing the governors.

“If we take them off, a bus could go 80 to 85 mph,” Smith said. “We don’t want that.”

Chris Enochs, director of supplemental services in Hancock County, said 70 mph highways don’t exist in the county. But he does see where it would be necessary for a bus traveling the interstate outside the county to go up to 70 mph or beyond to maintain safety.

“I would leave it up to the bus drivers,” he said. “If a situation calls for 70 mph, I would trust their judgment. I trust our employees to do what is in the best interest of the students.

“Do the governors need to be on there? Probably not,” he said. “We should trust our employees to do what is needed.”

Dr. James Wilson, a member of the West Virginia Board of Education from Glen Dale, termed the idea of increasing the speed limit for buses “a proposal.” He said the proposed policy change was sent back to committee “to be reworked.”

“I have a problem that in the case of emergency they can’t override (the governor),” he said. “But in terms of the speed limit, I think it should stay where it is.

“I would support this if the governor can be made to be kept at a constant speed when in general use, but could be overridden in an emergency,” he said.

He and board president David Perry said the board is seeking an expert in school bus safety to address them during a future meeting.

Perry said he supports keeping the governors and the speed limits as they stand.

“It’s obvious we tabled the policy, which indicates we have reservations,” Perry said. “We have asked for a national expert because there are questions, at best. I personally think safety has to come first above all else.”

(King can be contacted at jking@theintelligencer.net)

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