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Could the Baltimore school bus-MTA accident have been prevented with better school bus driver training?

Written by Steve Gursten Posted November 10th, 2016

A CDL and about 10 hours of training, and most school bus drivers can get behind the wheel under Federal law, bringing light to a national issue of school bus driver safety and bus crash prevention

baltimore-school-bus-mta-crash

Earlier this year, we wrote about how the FMSCA wants to improve training standards for entry-level bus and truck drivers seeking their CDLs.

This is an issue of public safety. Most people have no idea that a subset of school bus drivers have very little training compared to other drivers of large commercial motor vehicles.

So little, in fact, that as a bus accident lawyer, I’ve written about the terrible discrepancy in training. And nowhere is this discrepancy greater than where it matters most – to protecting our most precious cargo of all — our children.

This need for better training of bus drivers is highlighted each time there’s a serious bus crash (note that I’m not using the word “accident,” because many of these commercial motor vehicle wrecks involving buses are very preventable). This week, in a tragic Baltimore school bus-MTA accident, both drivers and four passengers were killed. Ten others were injured.

On the morning of Nov. 1, 2016, a school bus veered into oncoming traffic and ripped through the side of a Maryland Transit Administration bus in Southwest Baltimore, according to a recent story in the Baltimore Sun.

This crash occurred when the eastward bound school bus was rear-ended a gray Ford Mustang at and struck a concrete pillar at the entrance of a nearby cemetery. The bus then continued another block down the road before smashing through the driver’s side front of the MTA bus, according to local law enforcement.

Investigators don’t know yet what caused the school bus driver to lose control, although they’re speculating he had a medical condition that may have caused him to lose consciousness, according to published reports.

As attorneys who litigate these types of crashes, we always look at the cause, the hiring and selection of drivers that the companies employ, and safety training. We also look to how these companies are maintaining their trucks and buses and if they’re complying with mandatory state safety laws and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Rules (FMSCRs).  Sadly, in most of our truck and bus accident cases, the companies make a series of decisions to violate these safety rules.

Here, Baltimore-based AAAfordable was one of seven bus companies under contract with the school system. AAAfordable owner Mark Williams told the Baltimore Sun that the driver was one of a “handful” who are contracted by city schools and had a good driving record. Yet a CBS Local report dug up a previous accident in which he lost consciousness and crashed his car.

This is why it’s so important for any attorney to ask in any case involving school bus drivers in particular, if this bus driver did have more training and supervision, would this crash still have occurred?

Could lives have been saved?

In the meantime, we will wait to see what investigators uncover about the health and training of the school bus driver.

What’s the training for a school bus driver – and why is there less training for school bus drivers?

As for the training for school bus drivers, a bus driver must hold a Commercial Drivers License (CDL) with a school bus endorsement. Often this means less than 10 hours of training. School bus drivers are also exempt from the following Federal Motor Carrier Safety regulations:

  • Driver qualification (including physical qualification and medical certification) regulations.
  • Hours-of-service regulations.
  • Vehicle maintenance and repair rules.
  • Bus inspection program requirements.
  • Vehicle operation regulations.
  • Insurance and registration regulations.

Who can drive a school bus?

In one school bus injury case I litigated and that made local news, I told a jury that based on how this company hired this driver, it’s not an exaggeration to say nearly anyone can get behind the wheel of a big yellow bus, or stand in as a substitute or contract bus driver.

Typically, bus drivers are part time and do not have benefits.

In the Baltimore crash, the driver was a contract worker. Many school bus drivers are people looking to kill time, or retirees or homemakers who aim to supplement household income. But they’re doing this by being entrusted with driving these large, heavy buses that are difficult to turn and have many blind spots. Small children who may be out of lines of sight who are running to or from these big yellow buses are often the victims of this inadequate training.

I want to emphasize that this is not “picking” on school bus drivers.  I just wonder – often – why truck drivers who drive around TVs or fruit have so much more training than the bus drivers who transport our children?

Many school bus drivers I’ve met (like most truckers) really enjoy and care deeply about their jobs. But as attorneys and as safety advocates, we cannot fathom the lower level of training and safety regulations that exists today for school bus drivers.  All three founding attorneys of the Roundtable have spoken at hundreds of legal conferences and seminars, teaching attorneys from throughout the U.S. about the law and how to litigate bus and trucking cases. We’ve met dozens of industry experts, both defense and plaintiff.  We still haven’t found anyone who can explain why the bus drivers who carry our precious young children to school have less training than those who drive a commercial bus line; or why a truck driver who carries vegetables or lumber has to comply with a higher level of safely laws.

We send our condolences to the victims and their family members involved in the Baltimore school bus-MTA crash.

Steve Gursten

About Steve Gursten

Attorney Steven Gursten is president of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association and past president of the American Association for Justice Trucking Litigation Group. He has been named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Leader in the Law" for his efforts to prevent truck accidents and promote national truck safety. Steve was also a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Lawyer of the Year" for a record settlement in a truck accident case. He has received the top reported truck accident jury verdict and top reported truck accident settlement in Michigan for multiple years, according to published year-end compilations of all jury verdicts and personal injury settlements by Michigan Lawyers Weekly. He has been named a "Top 50 Super Lawyer," by SuperLawyers, is listed in Best Lawyers in America, and has been awarded an AV-rating by Martindale-Hubbell, which is the highest rating for legal ability and ethics. Steve speaks to lawyers throughout the country on truck accident litigation. He is a founding member of the Truck Accident Attorneys Roundtable, head of Michigan Auto Law, and has dedicated his legal career to making our roads safer.
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