How safe are students traveling on school buses in metro Atlanta?

Buses are lining up to pick up students next week. Some Georgia schools resume Monday. (AJC File)

My AJC colleague Marlon Walker researched and wrote a remarkable story about the safety records of school bus drivers in metro Atlanta. His findings ought to trouble parents whose children ride school buses.

In my view, all the districts in the story inadequately review driver records and fail to act decisively when they uncover unsafe behaviors. I want to share one excerpt from this disconcerting story:

More than 4,000 bus drivers hit the roads daily in metro Atlanta to deliver about 300,000 students to and from school. Those drivers can be as young as 18, with several districts employing drivers as old as 87. School buses in metro Atlanta are involved in about 100 accidents per month, according to the most recent data available.

In 2016, five people — including one student — were killed in metro Atlanta accidents involving school buses, according to data collected by the Georgia Department of Transportation. That number was up from three in 2015 and two in 2014. Injuries also have risen more than 60 percent in recent years, from just under 200 in 2013 to more than 330 in 2016.

Not every district has been recording their bus accidents, which doesn’t surprise DOE officials. They require school districts to report accidents to the state, but admit many districts have a bad track record with compliance, which cannot be enforced.

The data also show school districts sometimes ignore their own driver regulations, including those that stipulate how often a driver can cause an accident before his or her job is at risk. One metro driver has a dozen accidents on her record, when two can be cause for firing.

I admire any 87-year-old who is still working, but I have to question whether driving a school bus is the appropriate job. According to the CDC: Age-related declines in vision and cognitive functioning (ability to reason and remember), as well as physical changes, may affect some older adults’ driving abilities.

I am also troubled by a pattern we’ve seen before — the state requires the collection of data but lacks the staff to review the information or follow-up on discrepancies, including some that are mind-boggling.

For example, Walker reports:

DeKalb County bus drivers have been responsible for an average of about two accidents a day since 2012, according to data district officials admit was not complete.

DeKalb failed to deliver accurate accident data to the state. It did not report any crashes in 2014 and only two in 2015, but reported 206 crashes from July 21 through November of 2016, more than any school district in Georgia for the year. The district learned of the yearly discrepancies from an inquiry by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and has since reported an additional 700 accidents to the state from 2014, 2015 and 2016. In an email late last year, safety and training manager Alexander R. Riley said the person expected to submit accident records to the state reported during an exit interview that she had not done so.

Here is a key comment in the story that speaks to the lack of action by either the state or districts:

Ned Einstein, a New York-based transportation consultant and expert witness in crash cases involving buses, suggests several factors keep transportation departments from working to keep children safe on the road, including the time it takes to investigate driving trends and the costs of drivers and transportation safety. As a transit head, he recalled adding “cover drivers” who rode on buses to look for deficiencies and to improve performance, and who often caught drivers’ bad habits.

“This person would figure out what was wrong,” he said. “We’d fix it in a day.”

He said Georgia Department of Education officials’ admission that they do little to get districts to comply with submitting bus accident data suggests there’s not enough money budgeted for safety — at either the state or district level. “As a society, we’re not willing to pay enough to make this safe,” he said.

Take a look at Walker’s story and let’s discuss.

 

Reader Comments 0

13 comments
Libby Christiansen
Libby Christiansen

I think it is also important to address the aging bus fleet. State funding for Transportation costs have been cut from budgets during the recession and districts have not been able to recover from the cuts. Not only do I worry about driver safety but I also worry about proper maintenance to ensure that the bus is mechanically sound.

BurroughstonBroch
BurroughstonBroch

Metro school buses seem safer than MARTA. Yet no AJC investigation of MARTA safety.

Milo
Milo

I'd worry more about the thug at every bus stop. 

kaelyn
kaelyn

It's not just the actual buses and the drivers. Some school districts have policies that endanger student riders, too. I chaperoned a field trip a few years ago when my youngest child was in middle school. I boarded the school bus last with the other parents, and we were shocked to see three kids sitting in each seat. When I asked the teacher if the second bus had broken down, he told me there was no second bus. He said the school didn't have enough money for another bus, and it was either squeeze the extra kids in each row or not go on the trip. It was actually a great field trip, and I'm glad I went. However, I was worried to death that something would happen to the kids with every bump we hit along the way. Most of the kids were adult sized and it was ridiculous for it to even be legal to have three in a seat.

Of course, when we got back at the end of the school day we saw the football team loading up on two buses with....you guessed it...TWO FOOTBALL PLAYERS IN A SEAT. Their lives and comfort are more important. Grrrrrrr!!!!

proudparent01
proudparent01

OK, lets do some math. There are 300,000 kids getting 2 trips a day so that is 600,000 individual student trips per day times 180 days. This doesn't include field trips, sports, etc. That comes to 108,000,000 student trips per year and there was one student death and 330 injuries. 


This is probably the safest mode of transportation on the planet. 

Astropig
Astropig

In Chattanooga,they ignored or finessed a lot of warning signs about bus safety and innocent kids paid with their lives.This is a preventable tragedy.

Ralph-43
Ralph-43

The front page story in today's AJC by Marlon Walker also addresses school bus safety and reports data indicating they are far safer than auto transport, but difficult to recruit drivers (gee- I wonder why?).  William Robinson, III, addresses one of the most important questions - Why doesn't every school bus have seat belts and require them to be in place before the bus can move? - This would add to safety and eliminate one of the complaints of resigning bus drivers - ill mannered brats running up and down the aisles while the bus is moving.

Babycat
Babycat

@Ralph-43 Witnessed that myself when I was behind a school bus, those kids were all over the place!

redweather
redweather

Remarkable story?  I think you've used the wrong adjective. This is a horrifying story.

John Taylor
John Taylor

No one believes that poverty is the result of personal failing todaybut rather SYSTYEMIC failure and deliberate planning to undermine peoples the rich see as inferrior. We have the analytical tools today to make the market work for everyone...cutting taxes on low income people to generate stimulus...indexing wages to profits to spread wealth more fairly. Voter must tell govt to focus on the economy and our wellbeing not dictating morality on the other side of the world.