10 Safety Recommendations Issued Following Investigation of Oakland, Iowa, School Bus Crash


A  driver’s failure to maintain control of a school bus – for reasons that could not be determined – and the failure of the Riverside Community School District to provide adequate oversight by allowing a driver with a known physical impairment to operate a school bus led to the fatal Dec. 12, 2017, crash and fire in Oakland, Iowa, said the National Transportation Safety Board during a public meeting the agency held Tuesday.

The crash occurred when a school bus driver turned from a rural gravel road onto a residential driveway for student pickup. After the student boarded the bus, the driver reversed out of the driveway and backed across the road, continuing until the bus’s rear wheels came to rest in a 3-foot-deep ditch. While the driver attempted to drive the bus out of the ditch, a fire began in the engine compartment and spread throughout the school bus. The driver and the only passenger – a 16-year-old student – died when they did not exit from the burning bus.



In this photo taken Dec. 12, 2017, the school bus involved in the fatal crash in Oakland, Iowa, is seen at its final position with the rear of the bus in a roadside ditch and the front of the bus on the gravel road. (Photo by Pottawattamie County Sheriff’s Office)

In the report released Tuesday, the NTSB noted the origin of the fire was the exterior of the engine’s turbocharger. Investigators found that when the bus came to rest in the ditch, the exhaust was blocked. As the driver attempted to drive the bus out of the ditch, repeatedly accelerating the engine, it caused turbocharger overload with significant heat output which resulted in the fire.

“As tragic as this accident is, it’s important for parents and students to understand that crash data shows students are safer riding in a school bus than being driven to school in the family car, and, students are far safer on the school bus than in a car driven by a teenager,” said NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt.

Contributing to the severity of the fire was a gap in the firewall that facilitated the spread of heat, toxic gases and fire into the passenger compartment. The NTSB found small penetrations through the firewall were not blocked with fire-resistant material and did not provide any fire protection or containment.

“Drivers should not only be able to operate the vehicle, but also be able to assist in the evacuation of passengers in an emergency, said Sumwalt. “Robust oversight on the part of the school district should ensure the safety of student transportation.”

As result of the investigation the NTSB issued a total of 10 safety recommendations with one  safety recommendations issued to the Department of Transportation, two issued to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, three issued to the State of Iowa and two to Blue Bird Corporation, Collins Industries, Inc., IC Bus, Starcraft Bus, Thomas Built Buses, Inc., Trans Tech, and Van-Con, Inc. Forty-four states including the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico; the National Association of Stated Directors of Pupil Transportation Services, National Association for Pupil Transportation, and National School Transportation Association; and the Riverside Community School District each received one safety recommendation.

The recommendations address safety issues including school bus driver fitness for duty, school bus fire safety, and school bus emergency training. In addition, the NTSB reiterated one recommendation to NHTSA.

An abstract of the final report, which includes the findings, probable cause, and all safety recommendations, is available at https://go.usa.gov/xy3DG.

Links to the accident docket and related news releases for this investigation are available at https://go.usa.gov/xmJqV.

To report an incident/accident or if you are a public safety agency, please call 1-844-373-9922 or 202-314-6290 to speak to a Watch Officer at the NTSB Response Operations Center (ROC) in Washington, DC (24/7).