NASDPTS Statement on NTSB Hearing on Iowa School Bus Crash & Fire Fatalities

This week, the National Transportation Safety Board conducted an important hearing to consider, amend and adopt the full report of its investigative team on the crash and subsequent fire of a school bus on December 12, 2017, near Oakland, Iowa. Sadly, the 74-year old bus driver and his only passenger, a 16-year-old girl, died as a result of the fire.

The NTSB’s news release outlines the resulting safety recommendations and contains links to all of the supporting data and documentation. Gabriel Rose, state director in Maryland, and Eastern Region NASDPTS Board Member, was in attendance. The hearing was live streamed, and those wanting to watch it can find it here on the NTSB YouTube channel.

At the outset, NTSB Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt said, “Statistically, students are far safer riding to school on the bus than in a family car and far safer than they would be with a teen driving,… but when our students step on board the school bus we should have no doubt that everything possible is being done to keep them safe.”

During the nearly three-hour hearing, the Safety Board’s investigative staff covered the circumstances of the crash and fire, their findings, the probable causes, and the resulting safety recommendations. The most important finding within the investigation was that the school bus driver had limited mobility, and was likely not capable of extricating himself or his teen passenger from the bus before the interior was consumed by flames and toxic smoke.

There was considerable testimony by the board members, including a strong emphasis on the failure by the local school district to exercise adequate oversight of the driver’s physical ability to carry out the tasks of his position. Based on this crash and others the Safety Board has investigated, Sumwalt exhorted all school districts to consider their responsibility to act now and ensure all of their school bus drivers are fit to perform their duties safely.

NASDPTS strongly encourages all student transportation professionals to review the findings and safety recommendations contained in the report abstract and work to close any gaps in existing regulations, training, and operational practices. Last week, we notified members of our response to the NTSB’s earlier safety recommendation (H-18-16) regarding driver fitness. The responses to H-18-16 from NASDPTS and other organizations were referred to during the hearing and are now classified by the Safety Board as, “Closed, Acceptable Action.”

NASDPTS will notify members when the final, amended Oakland report is available. The association will consider all aspects of the report to support our shared goal of raising our safety bar even higher. The NASDPTS Board will discuss drivers’ fitness to perform their duties, including assisting in evacuation and training of students, and improving fire safety standards for school buses. We encourage comments and suggestions from members on these and other aspects of the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation.

NASDPTS and others involved in student transportation have never wavered from a continuing commitment to improve the safety of students, school bus drivers, and those who share our roads. Outgoing NTSB Board Member, Dr. Earl Weener, could not have said it better than in his closing comments, when he said, “The industry, working together as a community, the regulators, the manufacturers, the operators—that’s where the real power is. If you can get all of them pointed in the same direction, driven by data, great things happen.”

Thank you for your commitment to student safety. Highest regards,
Mike LaRocco, NASDPTS President