On Monday, November, 21, 2016 six students were killed in a school bus crash in Chattanooga, Tennessee with twelve additional children in intensive care. The 24 year old school bus driver has been charged with five counts of vehicular homicide. The bus was heading down a residential street that was not part of his daily route at a relatively high rate of speed. The bus veered off of the road after which the driver overcorrected, resulting in the bus rolling over into a large tree.
The national news media reported that the driver of the bus had his license suspended in 2014 for not having car insurance when he was involved in a non-commercial vehicle crash. The driver was also involved in a side swipe crash while driving a school bus that caused minor damage to a car heading in the other direction earlier in the year.
Several complaints from both parents and students were filed with the school district about this particular driver. The bus was operated by a very large private student transportation organization. Neither the bus company nor school district took any significant remedial or disciplinary action with the driver are the crash and complaints.
While there is sure to be significant litigation concerning this crash and the National Highway Transportation Safety Board is investigating the underlying causes, six children who were the responsibility of the School District and School Bus Company will not graduate. Many if not all of the surviving students will have physical and/or mental scars for years to come.
National data shows a decrease in the number of fatalities involving school bus crashes in recent years. This is in stark contrast to the recent increase in the number of vehicle fatalities for all cars and trucks in the United States. School bus transportation is still considered the safest way to transport students to and from schools.
- Have a citizen complaint mechanism in place that requires action on the part of the bus management organization. There should be a contact number on the bus and/or given to the parents so they can voice their concerns. There must then be some action taken to validate the issue and if there is a safety problem to mitigate the unsafe activity.
- Follow-up on all complaints with each driver. Develop and implement a system to track complaints and conduct road observations (formal report) that should be included in the Bus Driver’s Annual Review.
- Telematics should be required of bus operators. Schools should be able to quickly access where their students are and how buses driving their children are being operated.
- Passenger transportation vendors must be carefully vetted. Too often the lowest cost provider is the primary decision factor when selecting a transportation vendor. Particular attention needs to be focused on minimum driver qualifications, online safety scores (Safersys, CSA) and other safety related information.
- An RFP that requires detailed descriptions of senior management qualifications (locally), driver training program (many school bus operators will help drivers get their CDLS), remedial training program, safety metric tracking, equipment specifications, and insurance requirements should be part of the consideration process.
- Camera systems that focus on driver safety and passenger activity should be considered when selecting a vendor to monitor the school buses. Cameras should focus on what is going on in front of the bus as well as the driver actions inside the bus when a safety threshold is breached.
- A very strong distracted driver policy with an even stronger enforcement mechanism must be in place. Bus drivers have the responsibility of many lives while transporting unsupervised children and they must be focused on the environmental exposures on the roadways.
- Track the turnover rate of drivers. Newer drivers struggle with routes and children’s personalities.
- Before allowing a driver on the roadway it is imperative that he or she be familiar with the routes, roadway exposures and company policy/procedures.
- The vetting, training and monitoring of drivers will help reduce the likelihood that you will have an unsafe bus driver on the road. It is everyone’s responsibility to ensure the safety of our children.