Lessons from the School Bus Driver Scandal in Dallas

Reckless driving, speeding, running red lights – these unsafe driving practices warrant traffic citations, cause serious vehicle crashes and draw the ire of other motorists. We might expect these practices from irresponsible drivers or even, on occasion, from someone pressed for time, but we don’t expect them from professional drivers, especially those responsible for the safety of our children.

When NBC 5 of Dallas launched a months-long investigation into the driving habits of school bus drivers in the area, the results shocked, confused and angered parents. The news team found thousands of complaints about bus drivers, ranging from excessive speeding to ignoring traffic lights.

An Institutional Problem

The violations and the complaints that ensued were troubling, but even more worrisome was the fact that so many bus drivers were still working for Dallas County Schools even after several complaints were filed against them. One driver accumulated around 22 complaints, yet still drove for DCS at the time NBC 5 aired their report.

NBC 5 said that, in total, fourteen school bus drivers received a dozen or more complaints from other drivers, yet none were terminated from their positions. This highlights a problem that goes beyond individual bus drivers. It represents an institutional problem that demands our attention to prevent terrible school bus crashes like the one that occurred in Chattanooga in 2016.

On November 21, 2016, the Chattanooga bus crash cost the lives of six children. The driver of the bus was allegedly traveling more than 20 miles per hour over the posted speed limit when he swerved off the street, causing the bus to topple over and hit a tree. The driver was also reportedly talking on his cell phone behind the wheel, which is against the law, but it was not clear whether he was using the phone at the time of or right before the crash.

The tragedy in Chattanooga was preventable, and it makes sense that so many Dallas parents were concerned about the report from NBC 5. In less than two years, over 2,000 reckless driving and speeding complaints were received by DCS, and not a single driver was fired until the report was released. For many parents, that was simply unacceptable.

Public Outrage Sparked Action

It was only after the news report – and the uproar that followed – that DCS finally fired 13 school bus drivers and suspended 229 more. If the investigation hadn’t prompted such outrage, it’s difficult to say what, if anything, could have prompted action on part of DCS.

Professional drivers of all sorts are held to higher standards than other drivers. No group should be the subject of greater scrutiny than the ones who hold the safety of our children in their hands. The lesson to learn from the school bus driver fiasco in Dallas is that the institutions responsible for maintaining the safety of our roads often fall short in doing their jobs.

It was only after concerned citizens made noise that those in charge made sure their drivers were held accountable for reckless driving. These drivers acted irresponsibly, and it’s good that they were eventually relieved of their duties. But they were left in place much longer than they should have been, and the burden of fault, in that regard, is shared not just by bus drivers, but also by the institutions that failed to act.

DCS fielded plenty of complaints, and it’s clear that the warning signs were there for anyone who wanted to see them. For now, we hope that they’ve done enough to fix the problem, but we should also be vigilant about making sure we keep reckless bus drivers off our roads.