In the wake of two fatal crashes involving school buses, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has released a report identifying recurring safety issues that plague school buses. Included in the report are issues with driver oversight and the lack of lap and shoulder belts to protect students in the event of a bus accident. Recent tragic bus crashes have again renewed calls for increased school bus safety, with experts and parents arguing that not enough is done to ensure student safety when they are transported by school bus.
Recommendations Come Following Investigation of Two Crashes
The NTSB issued its Special Investigation Report following the agency’s investigation of two crashes: a November 1, 2016, crash involving a Baltimore City school bus and a transit bus; and a November 21, 2016, crash in Chattanooga, Tennessee. In all, the crashes killed 12 and injured 37. Finding similarities in the two cases, the NTSB released a report outlining recurring safety issues in school bus transportation safety.
Baltimore School Bus Crash
The Baltimore school bus crash killed six people and injured 11 others. Fortunately, there were no children on the school bus when it collided with the Baltimore MTA bus after crashing into a Mustang and moving into oncoming traffic. The drivers of both buses and four people on the MTA bus died from their injuries. A lack of skid marks at the scene indicated to officials that the bus driver did not attempt to slow the bus immediately before the crash.
A preliminary report from the NTSB indicated the bus was traveling at approximately 45 miles per hour in a 30 mile-per-hour zone. The bus driver reportedly had a history of hypertension, diabetes and seizures, and co-workers witnessed him experience at least one seizure. The NTSB later concluded the crash was caused by incapacitation due to a seizure.
Chattanooga School Bus Crash
The Chattanooga bus crash occurred as the school bus carried 35 students home from Woodmore Elementary School. At around 3:20 p.m., as the bus traveled along Talley Road, the driver, Johnthony Walker, lost control of the bus and swerved off the road. The bus collided with a mailbox then swerved to the left and overturned before it hit a telephone pole and a tree. Six students died as a result of the crash. An arrest affidavit alleged Walker was speeding at the time of the crash. He was later found guilty of vehicular homicide, reckless aggravated assault, and assault.
NTSB Identifies Common Safety Issues in Bus Crashes
Common between both bus crashes, the NTSB notes, is a lack of driver oversight by both the school districts and the motor carriers that employed the drivers.
“In both cases, school bus drivers continued to operate school buses unsafely, with no remedial action when driver safety issues were known,” the NTSB writes. “In addition to lack of oversight, the Baltimore report focused on medically unfit school bus drivers, and commercial driver license fraud.”
In addition to concerns about the lack of bus driver oversight, the NTSB’s report recommends lap and shoulder belts for school buses, electronic stability control, and automatic emergency braking.
Among the NTSB’s 16 recommendations:
- That the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration strengthen medical examinations for commercial drivers;
- That the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration require all new school buses be equipped with collision avoidance and automatic emergency braking;
- That four states upgrade seat belt requirements from lap belt only to lap/shoulder belts; and
- That the states that have no seat belt requirements require all new large school buses be equipped with lap/shoulder belts for all passengers.
Safety Features May Have Factored in New Jersey Bus Crash
More recently, a school bus collision with a dump truck in Mount Olive Township killed a student and a teacher. Investigators charged the school bus driver with two counts of reckless vehicular homicide/death by auto. According to reports, Hudy Mulrow had 16 traffic violations and 14 license suspensions in approximately four decades.
The crash occurred after the bus driver missed a turn and allegedly attempted to access a road designed for official vehicles only. As the bus turned left, it was hit by the dump truck.
Experts interviewed following the crash said school buses are designed to withstand crashes with smaller passenger vehicles at typical city speeds, but are not designed for impact with larger vehicles such as a dump truck. Furthermore, although the buses are designed to protect students in a front-end collision or a rear-end collision, they are less effective at protecting against side collisions.
A lack of seat belts also increases the risk of being ejected from the bus in the case of a rollover crash.
The NTSB’s recommendations are not binding, but the agency appealed to the states to make changes quickly to implement seat belt requirements.