We like to think our children are in safe hands when they get on the bus before and after school. But one morning in 2017, parents in Dayton, Tennessee, 40 miles northeast of Chattanooga, received panicked texts and phone calls from their children; the bus driver smelled of alcohol and was driving erratically, swerving across traffic and going through red lights.
Alarmed parents called 911, which reached the bus company and a supervisor ordered the driver to pull over. The driver took a blood test that revealed a blood alcohol content of .127 percent, which is three times higher than the legal limit for commercial drivers. The driver pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 30 days in jail and 18 months of probation.
More common than many realize
Fortunately, none of the 26 children on that bus were injured, but it is a reminder of the dangers lurking on the roads each day, even from someone as seemingly innocent as the driver of a school bus. The Pew Trust recently said 1,620 schoolchildren in 38 states were put in harm’s way since 2015 because of a bus driver impaired by alcohol or drugs. There have been no fatalities, but accidents have injured 36 children.
Other sobering statistics include:
- Law enforcement arrested 118 drivers operating school buses while impaired since 2015.
- One-third of the impaired drivers crashed their bus.
- Random drug and alcohol tests identified many others since 2015.
- 260 drivers have refused to take the random tests since 2015.
Commercial drivers held to higher standards
Federal regulations hold drivers with commercial licenses to a higher standard. There is the aforementioned random drug and alcohol testing, and supervisors are trained to recognize signs of impairment when drivers show up for work. Moreover, drivers who fail random tests, even without getting behind the wheel, can lose their commercial licenses for at least a period, if not permanently.
Bus companies claim it is hard to find good employees because of the split-shift schedule and low pay. But parents, other drivers on the road and the children passengers deserve the safest possible driving from school bus drivers.