The National Transportation Safety Board is urging the Maryland State Department of Education to conduct an independent and “objective examination” into the Baltimore City Public Schools bus driver qualification process following a fatal, head-on crash with a transit bus last fall.
No students were on the bus, which serviced a special-needs route, at the time of the Nov. 1 incident, when the driver rear-ended a Ford Mustang and then proceed down the street without stopping, veering into the oncoming lane and striking the transit bus. The school bus driver died as did the transit driver and four of her passengers. An aide was also on the school bus and suffered non-life-threatening injuries.
The Baltimore incident came weeks before the fatal Chattanooga, Tennessee school bus crash that killed six students.
NTSB also recommended that Baltimore City Public Schools improve its internal controls to ensure that all school bus drivers meet qualification standards and do not pose any safety risks. Meanwhile, NTSB is asking the Maryland State Department of Education to modify its Code of Maryland Regulations to require that it receive notice of any school bus drivers that are disqualified from service during pre-employment screenings.
The 67-year-old school district bus driver employed by contractor AAAfordable Transportation had a history of hypertension, diabetes and seizures and had been involved in at least 12 crashes or other incidents over the past five years while behind the wheel of a school bus, on at least one occasion with children on board, or his personal vehicle, the NTSB released in a safety recommendation report.
At least one of the crashes on record was a direct result of the driver passing out while operating the bus. NTSB said the aide riding on the school bus asked the bus driver what happened immediately after he struck the Mustang, but he did not respond.
Baltimore City Schools had four crashes on file in the driver’s records, but a fifth crash that occurred on July 19 of last year was missing. NTSB investigators also uncovered that Baltimore City Schools was notified 11 times of criminal charges against the driver but none were documented in his qualification file. The only criminal background check on file was the original conducted in 2008.
NTSB also found that the school district had failed to document the property damage in four of the driver’s previous crashes, one of the requirements of the Code of Maryland Regulations for “Disqualification for Accidents.”