The National Transportation Safety Board cited inadequate response to previous crash reports and incomplete driver documentation in reviewing the Nov. 1 fatal collision between a Baltimore City Public Schools bus and an MTA bus when issuing two recommendations that the Maryland State Department of Education strengthen its procedures for ensuring all school bus driver meet qualification standards.
No students were on board at the time when school bus driver Glenn R. Chappell, 67, apparently passed out behind the wheel, which he had a history of doing. The school bus proceeded to rear-end a Ford Mustang and continued into oncoming traffic, when it struck the right-front side of the transit bus.
NTSB said an aide on the bus who sustained injuries said she asked Chappell what happened immediately after striking the Mustang but he didn’t respond.
Chappell as well as the MTA driver and four of her passengers died at the scene.
NTSB’s Safety Recommendation Report finalized in March found that Chappell had been involved in at least 12 crashes while driving a school bus or his personal vehicle since 2011, and four of the incidents were included in his file with Baltimore City Public Schools. But a fifth incident last summer uncovered by NTSB was absent. NTSB also said that on several occasions the school district failed to document crashes or maintain state-mandated records. For example, it neither held a required safety meeting with Chappell following a crash in October 2011 that resulted in the injury to an aide on board, nor did it conduct a medical evaluation.
NTSB also found that Chappell worked for five different school bus contractors between 2008 and last year, but Baltimore City Public Schools, or BCPS, failed to act on 11 alerts from the state’s Criminal Justice Information Service on Chappell’s driving history.
“The NTSB concludes that BCPS did not adequately document or review the school bus driver’s prior crashes or take appropriate action,” the report states.
The district issued a written statement in response, stating that the NTSB Report will lead to “continuous improvement of our transportation services” that were initiated following the Nov. 1 incident. These steps include a “systematic and ongoing auditing of driver certification status, increased review of drivers following accidents regardless of cause or fault, enhanced programs for driver retraining and in-vehicle monitoring, and instituted new protocols to ensure timely sharing of information between contracted bus services and school district offices.
“City Schools is committed to taking recommended actions to ensure the safety of students, staff members, and the public,” Baltimore City Public Schools added.
NTSB also faulted the Maryland State Department of Education for not ensuring that the district was complying with regulations. It concluded that the state needs to conduct an independent and neutral third party audit of Baltimore City’s transportation department and clarify its disqualifying conditions for school bus drivers.
Reprinted from the May 2017 issue of School Transportation News magazine.