School bus drivers busted for DUIs raise scary questions about child safety

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

Two school bus drivers have been arrested in Alabama on driving under the influence (DUI) charges within days of each other, marking a scary trend.

On Wednesday just before 5 p.m., Mark Pierce was arrested after crashing the school bus he was driving on an exit ramp on Interstate 459, WSFA reports. His blood alcohol level was .15, almost four times the legal limit. Pierce was charged with DUI and taken to jail. Fortunately, no children were on the bus at the time.

In mid-January, school bus driver Linda Bice was arrested and charged with driving under the influence of a prescription drug after she sideswiped a car shortly after 7 a.m. Three students were onboard her bus at the time, according to WVTM 13.

These aren’t the only stories of school bus drivers being arrested for driving under the influence — the internet is filled with similar stories from across the country, some of them with tragic endings.

The National Transportation Safety Board says on its website that school buses are the “safest vehicles on the road, and one of the safest modes of transportation overall.” The organization even goes as far to say that children are safer riding in a school bus than in a car with their parents.

School buses use a technology called compartmentalization, which helps protects its passengers. They’re made with an energy-absorbing steel inner structure and high, padded seat backs, which protect riders “much like eggs in a carton,” the NTSB says.

Of course, it matters a lot who is behind the wheel. “School buses are the safest mode of transport for children to and from school, but safety extends beyond vehicle design. The driver is always the best safety feature,” Maureen Vogel, a spokesperson for the National Safety Council, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “The people responsible for carrying our most precious cargo should be sober, drug-free, and fully capable of the serious task they are undertaking,” Vogel says.

The requirements for driving a school bus vary from state to state. In Alabama, where the accidents most recently occurred, applicants need to get a commercial driver’s license, undergo four hours of training from a school official, attend a 12-hour certification class, score at least an 80 percent on a written test, and pass a three-part performance test, per the Alabama State Department of Education. A driver can also have their certification suspended or revoked if they have confirmed drug use, criminal convictions, or an unsafe driving history.

While there’s no mention on the state’s website of drug testing or criminal background checks before someone is approved to be a driver, Chad Carpenter, an administrator for pupil transportation at the Alabama State Department of Education, tells Yahoo Lifestyle that federal regulations require that drivers take and pass these tests before they can be hired. School bus drivers are also randomly tested for drugs or alcohol once they’re certified, he says, and they’re subject to on-the-spot drug-and-alcohol testing if their superiors think they’re on something.

If someone has a history of DUI, it’s doubtful that they’ll be hired as a school bus driver, Carpenter says. But obviously it only takes one lapse in judgment to make a dangerous mistake. “Do these things guarantee that a driver is not going to do something stupid and cause issues? No, it is possible,” Carpenter says.

That’s why he advises parents to educate their children to be aware of their surroundings and tell a teacher or authority figure if their driver is behaving strangely. In that case, the driver may be tested for drugs or alcohol immediately.

Again, every state and school system is different, but experts say that parents should know that officials are doing everything they can to keep their kids safe. “We are always focused on student safety, and we take everything very seriously,” Carpenter says.

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