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Highway safety groups call for action on impaired school bus drivers

Jenni Bergal, Stateline.org on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- Two national highway safety groups are urging government officials to do more to prevent school bus drivers from getting behind the wheel while impaired by alcohol or drugs.

Responding to a recent Stateline investigation, the National Safety Council and Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety each are calling for changes that include beefing up oversight and putting alcohol detection systems in school buses.

Stateline found that more than 1,620 school children in 38 states have been placed in harm's way since 2015 by school bus drivers arrested or cited for allegedly driving while impaired.

Police have caught at least 118 school bus drivers, and more than a third of the cases involved crashes, Stateline reported. Nearly three dozen children have been injured, some seriously.

No one at the state or federal level appears to track such cases. And many states don't even know how many school bus drivers have failed random drug or alcohol tests. Stateline found at least 260 drivers in five states who had failed or refused such testing since 2015.

The National Safety Council, an Itasca, Ill.-based organization focused on eliminating preventable deaths, called the findings "unacceptable."

 

"This report is like a canary in the coal mine. You have to respond," said Maureen Vogel, the council's spokeswoman. "It's up to us to make sure there is a coordinated response. The council takes this very seriously."

The group wants states to require ignition interlock technology on all school buses to prevent drivers from operating them with elevated blood alcohol concentration levels.

Legislators in New York and Rhode Island have introduced bills that would have required ignition interlocks on school buses, but they haven't succeeded. In New York, opponents called the interlocks a "guilty until proven innocent" approach that also would be too costly and technically challenging.

The safety council also wants states to pass legislation that would prohibit school bus drivers from using alcohol at least eight hours before driving.

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