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CONTACT 13: School bus safety investigated

Posted at 11:00 PM, Feb 24, 2017
More than 130,000 kids ride school buses every day here in Clark County. Contact 13 crunches the numbers on just how often school buses crash.   
 
Last year, school bus involved crashes claimed the lives of 12 people in a single month in the U.S. 
 
Nov. 1. Baltimore, Maryland: Six people killed when a school bus crashed head-on with a public transit bus.
 
Three weeks later in Chattanooga, Tennessee, six elementary school children were killed when their school bus crashed. 
 
Here in Las Vegas, Nov. 28: A school bus with 44 students was involved in a crash near Bonanza Road and Nellis Boulevard. Another crash four days later near Alexander Road and Commerce Street in North Las Vegas. 
 
That prompted Contact 13 to investigate. We tracked media reports of school bus crashes across the country and found crashes nearly every day in the U.S. with multiple crashes on multiple days -- from minor fender benders to serious collisions. While many of incidents were still under investigation, very few were weather related. 
 
There were several crashes here in Las Vegas in recent months. 
 
"I imagine parents aren't aware of how many accidents actually occur," says Congresswoman Dina Titus. 
 
The Clark County School District reports 495 school bus involved crashes during the last school year. In January 2017: 64, the second highest monthly total in 3 years. 

CCSD school bus accident data by Kean Bauman on Scribd

"That shocked me," says parent Adelina Hernandez. "I didn't think it was that much. That's too many."

But for years, the federal government have said school buses are the safest way to transport our children. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than 25 million kids are transported in more than 450,000 school buses covering 260 million miles every day.  That dizzying math means school buses make up the largest transportation system in the country. 
 
CCSD has more than 1,700 buses covering 23 million miles a year on 1,601 routes.  
 
"Schools are supposed to be a safe place and that includes the transportation to the school itself," says Titus who serves on the House Transportation Committee. "We are certainly seeing an increase in school bus accidents and we need to look into it."
 
Contact 13 learned there could be a gap in oversight.  
 
The NHTSA collects school bus crash data only when there's a fatality.  
 
In Nevada, there's no requirement for school districts to collect information and no agency tracking it. Nevada Department of Education collects data including number of buses, routes, miles driven and number of students transported but not crash data.  
 
"You can't keep a record on perhaps a bad bus driver who moves from district to district," Titus says. "And ... you can't look for ways to improve the system whether it might be seatbelts in buses, or better training for drivers."
 
CCSD keeps crash data but refused to talk to us about it on camera.  
 
In an email they said many incidents are minor like when a bus mirror scrapes a traffic sign.  But even that worries parents. 
 
"It's neither here nor there. It is an accident," Hernandez says. "If it's in my route, I want to know."
 
The data CCSD provided shows just over half the crashes are the bus driver's fault.
 
"But 50 percent? That's too high," Hernandez says. "It's still too high. 10 percent would still be too high for me. But 50 percent?"
 
In response to those deadly November crashes, Congressman Elijah Cummings from Maryland wrote a letter to the House Transportation Committee. He wants Congress to investigate, noting the Chattanooga bus driver had a previous school bus crash. And the Baltimore bus driver had a medical history including seizures.

170111CummingsDuncanCohenLetteronSchoolBusSafety by Kean Bauman on Scribd

Congresswoman Titus supports the investigation. 

"That's why you need a hearing to really look at the numbers and be sure where the fault lies and what we could do about it." says Titus. 
 
After declining our request for an on-camera interview, CCSD provided the following information:
 
CCSD school buses travel 23 million miles a year. About 120,000 students qualify for general transportation and another 12,000 students qualify for special education transportation, which requires door-to-door pickup and drop off. There are currently 1,601 bus routes.
 
Bus driver training, background checks and drug/alcohol testing:
Our bus drivers have 40 hours of in class training, 30 hours of driving training and have a supervised final before being allowed on a route.
Additionally, we have regular annual training and classroom safety instruction. 
 
Bus drivers, like all district employees, must undergo an FBI background check, which requires fingerprinting. Additionally, bus drivers, like all district employees, must undergo a local scope check, which also looks for criminal records and arrests. In addition, State statute allows district HR to conduct a driving history check twice a year.
 
The district complies with Federal Mandates as it relates to drug testing for commercial drivers -  The United States Congress recognized the need for a drug and alcohol free transportation industry, and in 1991 passed the Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act, requiring DOT agencies to implement drug and alcohol testing of safety-sensitive transportation employees. 49 CFR Part 40, or Part 40 as we call it, is a DOT-wide regulation that states how to conduct testing and how to return employees to safety-sensitive duties after they violate a DOT drug and alcohol regulation. Part 40 applies to all DOT-required testing, regardless of mode of transportation.
 
Definition of accident reported in data:
The data provided to [KTNV] via your Public Records Request encompasses all accidents involving a CCSD school bus. An accident involving a school bus includes incidents as minor as a bus mirror scraping a traffic sign or a more serious incident that requires that the bus be towed.
 
Each time a district school bus is involved an accident of any magnitude, an investigator from the district's Transportation Department is dispatched to the scene to begin an investigation.
 
Increase of accidents from 2013/14 through present:
The actual accident percentage has not increased. The District increases by approximately 80 - 100 routes each year.
 
Regarding the 64 accidents reported in January 2017, the second highest monthly total in data provided:
The department will see random spikes throughout the year - which will vary from year to year. To ensure sufficient employee training both post accident and defensive drive training workshops are provided to drivers on a weekly and monthly basis. Post accident training is mandatory and tracked closely.
 
When accident is determined to be bus driver fault:
The District, as per the employee negotiated contract, will follow progressive disciplinary procedures. The accident investigation process begins with the responding entity (Metro, NLV PD, etc) - once the bus driver is deemed at fault an accident report is provided, employee and witness statements are gathers, video (if applicable) is viewed and the investigation packet is submitted to the Director of Compliance and Safety. The Director (with guidance from CCSD's Employment Management Relations Dept.) will determine and issue the appropriate level of progressive discipline to the employee. In addition, the Director will define the required post accident training, which may include a behind the wheel evaluation and/or return to 12 day driver training class.
 
Overall procedures to evaluate accident data:
The Director of Compliance and Safety tracks and monitors the accident data throughout the year. In-house Training Supervisors are then directed to make adjustments and/or add focus to certain types of accidents if a pattern or continued cause is revealed (for example - a cluster of accidents during right hand turns in a certain area of town).