Regulating the Color of Buses?

August 16, 2016

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By DEBBIE WISE

school bus fleet

If regulating school buses is this complicated, what about education itself?

Ready for more adventures in South Carolina legislation? One of the bills introduced during the 2016 session – H.4415 – would have forbidden non-state-owned school buses from being painted yellow. And not just any yellow – a particular kind of yellow known as “national school bus glossy yellow.”

So if you’re a private organization and you operate buses, you wouldn’t be allowed to paint the buses – and I’m not making this up – “the color in the colorimetric specification of federal standard number 595a, Color 13432, of the National Institute of Standards and Technology.”

That’s actually in the bill.

At least two state lawmakers – the one who sponsored it, Rep. Greg Duckworth (R-Horry), and the one who had it recalled from the education committee, Rep. Mark Willis (R-Greenville) – must think it’s worth the General Assembly’s time to crack down on the practice of painting non-government school buses “national school bus glossy yellow.”

The bill didn’t get a vote on the floor, but the fact that it was filed (and recalled from committee to the House floor by unanimous consent) is just a little alarming.

It’s a violation of property rights, for one thing. Sorry, but you can’t tell a private organization what color it paints its buses. Somehow I suspect even the bill’s two supporters agree with that, but felt compelled for whatever reason to introduce the bill anyhow; maybe one of the education lobbyists sounded very insistent that private school buses being painted yellow is a threat to the republic.

And take a look at the section of the law code that H.4415 would have amended. It’s a massive 10,000-word tome on the regulation of school buses. Maybe it’s a good idea to mandate that “every school bus shall be equipped with a power-driven windshield wiper, adequate brakes and efficient lights which shall at all times when in use be in good working order and also with a rear view mirror or mirrors of such dimensions as will enable the driver, from the driver’s seat, to see reflected in them not only the occupants of the vehicle but also the road to the left and to the rear of the vehicle for a proper distance.”

And sure, it’s a good thing to insist that “the driver of each school bus must be an experience driver of good moral habits, and neither he nor any pupil nor any other person shall use alcoholic liquors or smoke any cigar, cigarette, pipe, tobacco or other substance in such vehicle during the time he is operating the same as a school bus.”

Okay, fine.

But there are law elsewhere on the books about maintenance and operation of motor vehicles, and about endangerment of others while using them. Do we need an extra book of law just on school buses? And anyway, the sheer detail included in these laws is overwhelming, far beyond the capacity of a normal person trying to fulfill his or her job in an ordinary competent fashion – there are laws on the definition of an “unescorted student,” on the maximum length of time any student may spend on a school bus, on the circumstances in which non-students may ride buses, on the kind of fuel school buses should use (biodiesel “when feasible”).

All this hyper-regulation, of course, is a result of the fact that the state owns its own school bus fleet. South Carolina is among the only states in the nation with this distinction. Why we don’t allow a private company to contract for that service is anybody’s guess.

Maybe it’s a metaphor for state-run education itself. If it’s this hopelessly complicated to run a fleet of state-owned buses, how much more so is it to educate an entire state’s population of school children? At least everybody can agree on what the point of school buses is – it’s to get kids from point A to point B. No one agrees on what the point of education is. Maybe it’s time for the state to loosen its grip.

Debbie Wise and her husband ran a hotel for nearly 30 years. They are retired and live in Greenville. If you have an idea for a submission to The Nerve, send us an email at news@thenerve.org.