The arrest early Thursday morning of NASCAR driver A.J. Allmendinger for driving under the influence unfortunately won't surprise many sports fans who have grown accustomed to athletes running afoul of the law. But it serves to remind that drunk driving remains a plague on society, and a scan of lower profile news headlines proves that even school bus drivers aren't immune.
Of course, school bus drivers are only human, after all, prone to mistakes. Yet, by definition, they are held to even higher standards for the precious cargo in their care each and every school day. And driving drunk, with or without children on board, is one of the most egregious errors of judgement they can make.
In Allmendinger's case, he admitted his mistake while saying that he "felt fine" when he decided to drive after having drinks with dinner, while adding, "but I obviously should have erred more on the side of caution, particularly given what I do for a living." It's no small irony that "the Dinger," as he's known in NASCAR circles, is the heir-apparent to the famed No. 44 car of his team owner Richard Petty, the famous racer who many in the school transportation industry will remember signing autographs at the Thomas Built Bus NAPT trade show booth several years ago.
While Allmendinger's error is bad enough, as he could have killed or seriously hurt someone, drunk driving incidents happen everyday that never make the newspaper much less ESPN's Sportscenter. Too many school bus drivers, meanwhile, have also been arrested for drunk driving this and every year, one of the most recent cases happening just last month in New York City as the man was accused of showing up drunk for an afternoon run. The driver said he had taken cold medicine with a soft drink; regardless, a breathalyzer told police his blood alcohol level was over the legal limit. Then there's the Montana school bus driver who had an arrest warrant issued for striking a high school student in a crosswalk.
Like any student fatality on board a bus or not, one school bus driver who shows up for work drunk or, worse yet, is actually pulled over for drunk driving, is one too many. Sens-O-Lock of America and B.E.S.T Labs, who partnered to manufacturer an interlock system that works in conjunction with a breathalyzer to kill a school bus ignition should a driver blow over the legal limit before attempting to turn the key, say technology can provide a solution. If schools can or would use such technology is another thing. Perhaps the additional cost, even in today's economy, would be worth it and then some in light of the potential lawsuit a school could find itself fighting. But, like other bells and whistles designed for enhancing safety in and on the school bus, can they replace good, old-fashioned training or even proper background checks and employer supervision? Should they even? And like other challenges in transportation, from dealing with bullies to special needs management, what is reasonable anymore?
As we know, any law-abiding citizen is capable of making a one-time mistake. But is the industry doing everything in its power, training, technology or otherwise, to ensure that drunk driving is never one of them, especially as other distracted driving issues tied to cell phones are being targeted by the feds and Congress? What are your thoughts?