ABC11 Investigates

School bus accidents down in Wake

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A one-in-20 chance of crashing - that's what the I-Team discovered about Wake County school buses after looking at the accident rate so far this year.

There have been nearly 100 crashes in the first four months of the year, causing injuries to dozens of students and drivers. More than half of the accidents were caused by the bus drivers.

Wake County Superintendent Tony Tata saw ABC11's first reports on the issue and took action.

"Because of what I have seen and the accident rate that is evident, I'm asking the transportation department to conduct a stand-down for safety - face-to-face meetings with our drivers to put them on notice that we have to change things," he said in an April interview.

Schools transportation boss Don Haydon had the job of putting drivers on notice. He found some common problems.

"The things we're seeing are things like side-swiping, a bus not allowing room as it makes a turn so it'll hit something. Or for one reason or another, it'll bump into a vehicle in front of it. And also some situations of backing, where a bus is in a situation where it has to back up and doesn't allow for proper clearance. So we've emphasized that during the first set of safety meetings," he said.

Haydon said there didn't seem to be other contributing factors to blame for the high number of accidents at the beginning of this year.

"We're scratching our heads as to what did cause it because we haven't been able to sense anything. As I said, we do want to continue drilling down through the data to see if there's anything that would help us understand that," he explained.

ABC11 ran criminal background checks on all 91 drivers involved in accidents this year.

Some have felony charges like embezzlement; others, charges of driving while intoxicated. And, most had traffic violations like speeding or driving without a license.

"I'm surprised at that because we did implement a more rigid standards for the hiring process back when this was an issue brought up a little over a year ago. We did change our hiring policy to be more stringent," said Haydon.

In 2009, the ABC11 I-Team reported we found drug convictions, assaults, and even one driver accused of wrecking his car while travelling at 110 miles per hour while intoxicated. He was still driving kids to school afterwards.

Since that story, Haydon implemented an alert system to notify the district if a bus driver is involved in so much as a moving violation.

"I'm confident that the new screening standards are helping," said Haydon.

And he appears to be correct. We checked the records of all drivers in accidents this year who were hired within the past two years, and all met the new hiring qualifications. But we still found two drivers hired under the old standard who should not have been hired.

Since Wake implemented new safety training for bus drivers in March, there have been fewer accidents. There were 13 in April, which the district considers a normal amount.

If a citizen has a concern about a Wake County school bus or driver, there are two ways to report it. Report via Email at: transportation@wcpss.net or report by phone at: (919) 856-8050

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Tags:
wake county, wake county schools, accident, abc11 investigates, steve daniels
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