The shortage of school bus drivers in New Jersey has no quick fix. Here are the 10 steps required to obtain a license.



A shortage of school bus drivers is plaguing schools across the country and state. But the license required to drive a school bus is a specialized license that is difficult to obtain and keep.

Parents and students are seeing the effects of the shortage play out with changing start and end times at schools and delays as districts and bus companies scramble to get more drivers on the road.

Job vacancies are plentiful, with 34 bus companies advertising on the NJ School Bus Contractors Association Recruitment Page and many school districts looking for drivers on Internet job sites.

The process for obtaining the necessary commercial driver’s license is regulated by the federal government, which began in 1986 to have uniform licensing and training standards across the country.

The process of getting a CDL with the necessary endorsements for passengers, school buses and air brakes is not an easy task and can take up to 60 days, said Chloe Williams, president of the New Jersey School Bus Contractors Association, in a previous interview. It is more difficult than the tests that most drivers take to get a car license.

One of the downsides for school bus companies and districts is that unless someone already has the specialized CDL, school driver jobs cannot be filled immediately.

Think you can overcome the obstacles to getting a school bus driver’s license? This is what is required.

Student school bus drivers must have a valid New Jersey driver’s license to practice, be 21 years of age or older, and have a valid driving record for at least three years.

There is a 168-page CDL manual to study which serves as a basis for the written test. In addition to basic commercial driving questions, specialized questions must be answered to obtain separate endorsements for driving a bus, school bus, and bus with air brakes.

A passenger endorsement is required for any vehicle carrying 16 or more people. But this does not include the school bus.

An additional “S” endorsement is required for a school bus license, and it implies passing a written examination and a practical examination on the safe transportation of students.

Finally, an air brake certification may be required, which involves studying the operation, use and how to inspect air brakes. The absence of a driver limits only to vehicles equipped with hydraulic brakes.

Typically, school districts and bus companies train potential drivers and advertise them as a benefit. The CDL manual also recommends the use of a commercial driving school or other training.

Before hitting the books, candidate drivers must be able to pass a U.S. Department of Transportation physical exam, five-panel DOT drug screening, and vision test.

Medical reasons for banning getting a CDL include diabetic condition, a serious heart problem, any medical condition that could lead to unconsciousness, and failure to meet vision standards.

Potential school bus drivers must also undergo federal and state criminal background checks and take their fingerprints. The manual warns applicants to start the fingerprinting process early, this can take up to 4 weeks.

Then, they must pass a written federal commercial driver’s license exam and a road test to obtain the license with endorsements for passengers and school buses. If drivers pass the written test, they can take the driving test as early as 14 days later.

The test drive includes a pre-trip inspection to determine if the vehicle is safe to drive. This inspection is rigorous and requires basic knowledge of mechanics. Then the drivers are subjected to a basic vehicle control test and a road test in traffic.

Once drivers have their CDL school bus drivers, they are required to carry a medical card certifying that they have passed a medical examination given by a federally licensed physician.

Renewing the license is not the type of “avoid the trip” option that motorists get. A CDL must be renewed in person at an MVC agency. School bus drivers must undergo a new criminal background check, pass a physical exam and obtain fingerprints before they can renew their license.

The shortage has sparked a bidding war between districts and bus companies, offering wages of up to $ 25 an hour. However, even changing jobs is not a catastrophic process. Some regulations require these drivers to re-obtain their fingerprints and background information.

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Larry Higgs can be reached at lhiggs@njadvancemedia.com.


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