Sadly, it seems that more and more often we are seeing instances of school bus drivers being arrested for driving under the influence with children in their buses (California School Bus Driver DUI on the Job, Boy on Top of Santa’s Nice List After Calling 9-1-1 on DUI School Bus Driver).
According to a Stateline investigation, across the nation, bus drivers have been cited or arrested for alleged impaired driving in 38 states with a total of over 1,620 affected students since 2015. Despite these numbers, school transportation groups point out that buses are still the safest way for students to get to school and that none of these incidents resulted in fatalities with a majority of the students uninjured.
What is even more surprising after noticing an increase in accident coverage of impaired bus drivers is that the month-long investigation by Stateline revealed that many state agencies don’t collect, aggregate or analyze impaired school bus drivers.
During the course of their investigation, Stateline contacted 268 agencies, covering 50 states and the District of Columbia, ranging from education and transportation departments to state police and court systems. The end result? 11% of all of the agencies contacted were able to come up with any incidents or data.
Some agencies claimed that their data was just not that detailed and were not able to comment on the occupation of the driver reported, others claimed to have found no cases in their databases even though Stateline had evidence on one or more. Many, surprisingly, were not able to do a query at all for such a search.
So perhaps the numbers are not really increasing, but just that such incidents are simply getting wider coverage and thus seemingly increasing.
Being a bus driver is not an easy job. Even before you deal with the screaming, fighting, distracting children on board your vehicle, drivers often have to go through special training, have a commercial driving license, and be able to handle a 33,000 pound vehicle carrying up to 70 students. And yet, they often deal with low pay, split-shifts, and occasionally part-time hours, which can be stressful in its own way.
It doesn’t seem to be just alcohol either. Stateline found that police caught at least 118 drivers across the mainland U.S. and about a third of them involved drugs. Drugs weren’t necessarily of the illegal type either, at least two dozen of the arrested drivers were impaired by drugs prescribed to them by a doctor.
As a commercial vehicle driver, school bus drivers are required by federal regulation to be tested for alcohol and drugs before they are hired and randomly during their employment. A failure of the test may result in the temporary loss of their commercial license.
However, even with all of these seemingly stringent checks in place, how are these drivers getting lost in the shuffle and slipping through the cracks?
Perhaps the lack of tracking by state agencies is exactly the problem. Large school districts sometimes have hundreds of buses on route and it is not feasible to inspect each and every driver before their shift. In rural areas, many bus drivers will park their buses in their own barn, rather than a bus barn, which means that while they are checked in in the morning, no one of a supervisory position is around to see you before you board your vehicle. Thus, theoretically, supervisors are trained to spot signs of alcohol or drug use and they can mandate a drug test if there is “reasonable suspicion” to do so, but if they rarely meet face to face, then perhaps the stringent checks are not so stringent.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the agency in charge of the trucking and bus industry, requires that employers have 25% of their pool of commercial drivers randomly tested for drugs each year and 10% for alcohol, yet audits have shown that there are several school districts are not performing the amount of random testing required by federal law.
Apparently, without state agencies collecting the data connected to this, they can get away without complying, and perhaps this is where we find the real reason why all of a sudden we are feeling like our children are in more danger than we realized. I am sure that none of the drivers are intentionally putting children in danger, and yet the regulations that are there to protect the children do not seem to be actually executed. Without the state agencies realizing that data needs to be collected so that they can realize how big of an issue this may actually be, we may be getting nowhere. Perhaps after all of this, the data shows that it is actually a small blip in the spectrum and our children are perfectly safe. But without regulated and consistent data we may never know.