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Accident Report Detail

 
Selective Issues in School Bus Transportation Safety: Crashes in Baltimore, Maryland, and Chattanooga, Tennessee

Executive Summary

​School bus travel is one of the safest forms of transportation in the United States. Every day, nearly 600,000 buses carry more than 25 million students to and from school and activities. Children are safer traveling in school buses than in any other vehicle.

Although school buses are extremely safe, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) continues to investigate school bus crashes in which fatalities and injuries occur. Improved oversight of school bus drivers and enhancements to school bus design—such as installation of passenger lap/shoulder belts, electronic stability control, and automatic emergency braking—could prevent or mitigate such crash outcomes.

In November 2016, the NTSB began the investigation of two multifatality crashes involving school buses. Each crash was initiated when the driver lost control of the school bus. In the November 1 crash in Baltimore, Maryland, the driver was epileptic and suffered a seizure. In the November 21 crash in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the driver was speeding while using a cell phone and ran off the road. In both cases, the school bus operators were private for-hire motor carriers performing contracted student transportation services. Although the specific safety issues differed, the crashes shared one common factor: poor driver oversight by both the school districts and the contracted motor carriers, which resulted in unsafe operation of the school buses.

This special investigation report focuses on:

  • School districts’ lack of oversight of student transportation service providers (Baltimore, Chattanooga).
  • Poor management of unsafe school bus drivers by motor carriers and school districts (Baltimore, Chattanooga).
  • Medically unfit school bus drivers (Baltimore).
  • Commercial driver license fraud in Maryland (Baltimore).
  • Large school bus occupant protection (Chattanooga).
  • Electronic stability control, automatic emergency braking, and event data recorders (Baltimore, Chattanooga).

Probable Cause

​The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the Baltimore, Maryland, school bus crash was (1) the loss of vehicle control due to incapacitation of the bus driver because of a seizure stemming from a long-standing seizure disorder; (2) the bus driver’s continued operation of a school bus with a disqualifying medical condition and a fraudulently obtained commercial driver’s license; and (3) the failure of AAAfordable Transportation and the Baltimore City Public Schools to provide adequate bus driver oversight, allowing the medically unfit driver to drive a commercial vehicle with a medical condition that they knew, or should have known, could lead to the unsafe operation of the school bus. Contributing to the severity of the crash was the lack of a collision avoidance system with automatic emergency braking on the school bus.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the Chattanooga, Tennessee, crash was (1) the school bus driver’s excessive speed and cell phone use, which led to the loss of vehicle control; (2) Durham School Services’ failure to provide adequate bus driver oversight, allowing an inexperienced driver to operate a commercial vehicle with escalating risky driving behaviors that it knew, or should have known, could lead to the unsafe operation of the school bus; and (3) the Hamilton County Department of Education’s lack of followup to ensure that Durham had addressed a known driver safety issue. Contributing to the severity of the crash was the lack of passenger lap/shoulder belts on the school bus.


Accident Location: Multiple , Multiple USA  
Accident Date: 11/1/2016
Accident ID: HWY17MH007, HWY17MH009

Date Adopted: 5/22/2018
NTSB Number: SIR1802
NTIS Number: PB2018-100932