Three Tampa Bay area school buses have been involved in crashes in just four days. One of those crashes killed a motorcyclist. Another sent a child to the hospital. Now, multiple investigations are underway.
Having three local school bus crashes in a single week raises questions about student safety, especially in light of previous 10Investigates reports about bus driver qualifications.
Background on the three school bus crashes
Crash 1: On Tuesday, a Pinellas County school bus carrying students with special needs pulled into the path of a motorcycle in St. Petersburg, according to a preliminary FHP report. The two vehicles collided, and the motorcyclist died. The crash is still under investigation.
Crash 2: On Thursday, a Pasco County school bus -- carrying five students -- drove into the path of a dump truck in Wesley Chapel. Nobody was hurt, but the bus driver was cited for failure to yield.
Crash 3: On Friday, a Hillsborough County school bus pulled in front of a semi-truck. An 8-year-old boy on the bus was taken to the hospital with minor injuries. The bus driver was cited for violating the right-of-way.
Driver shortages and citation histories
This year, multiple school districts have dealt with serious bus driver shortages. In Polk County, the shortage even caused delays after school had already started.
In recent years, 10Investigates revealed how local school districts had become so desperate to fill positions that applicants with questionable driving records or without commercial driver's licenses were being considered for jobs.
10News combed through court records to piece together the driving histories of the bus drivers involved in this week's crashes. The records showed all traffic infractions -- not necessarily ones that happened while the drivers were operating buses. The driver in the Pinellas County crash had citations for running a stop sign and failing to yield in 1997 -- but a clean record ever since, including during the entire time he has been driving for the district. The Pasco County driver also had a clean record. But, 10News found five prior citations for the Hillsborough County driver -- including for making an improper turn as recently as 2016.
That driver has been pulled from duty, according to a spokesperson for Hillsborough County Public Schools, and the driver will be required to undergo routine drug testing.
"In the meantime, we will receive a copy of the police report and we'll do our own investigation," district spokesperson Tanya Arja said. "The driver would then go through our points system as prescribed by our Safe Driver Plan."
Pinellas County school officials are still waiting to see if FHP finds their driver at fault.
"Decisions related to whether or not the driver will be reprimanded depends on whether he was at fault," Pinellas County Schools Spokesperson Lisa Wolf said. "Once we receive the report from FHP, the driver will go through our Transportation Department’s Accident Review Committee to determine if additional training or possible discipline is necessary."
Florida law requires a 40-hour driving curriculum before anyone can drive a bus. Hillsborough County says its drivers get roughly double that amount of training -- which is split between the classroom and behind the wheel. Pasco County does even more.
"They receive continual training throughout their career," Arja added.
According to Arja, the district regularly monitors driver records to flag any issues. If a single driver has several citations, a committee would decide whether any disciplinary action was warranted. In the case of this driver, Arja says, having only one infraction during the six years she's worked for the county would not be something that would warrant disciplinary action.
Pasco County confirmed a similar process was in place there.
"We never want our buses to be involved in crashes, and certainly not ones where our driver is at fault, but when you consider that Pasco County school buses travel more than 7.5 million miles per year, mistakes are unavoidable," Pasco County Schools Spokesperson Linda Cobbe said. "We're just glad no one was injured."
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