New Bill Calls for Stricter Scrutiny on School Bus Drivers

Proposal prompted by NBC Boston investigation

A state senator has filed legislation to tighten oversight of school bus drivers as a result of an NBC Boston investigation that found a number of bus drivers with lengthy driving histories.

The bill that Democratic state Sen. Anne Gobi of Spencer filed would require, among other things, that anyone applying for a school bus driver certificate through the state’s Department of Public Utilities would have:

  • No traffic violations in the previous year
  • No more than five minor traffic violations in the past five years
  • No major violations, such as drunken driving, reckless driving, or vehicular homicide, in the previous five years
  • No more than three at-fault accidents in the previous five years

“When it comes down to the safety of our children, this is absolutely an opportunity to do the right thing.” Gobi said.

The proposal could meet stiff resistance from bus drivers unions around the state.

“Entirely inappropriate and misplaced,” said Steve Kirschbaum, vice president of the Boston school bus drivers’ union, which is United Steelworkers Union Local 8751.

Kirschbaum, whose union represents more than 950 Boston public school bus drivers, said the law is overly-aggressive and unrealistic, and called school bus drivers some of the most vetted workers in the country.

“No major traffic accidents in the previous five years or not more than three such incidents in the applicant’s driving history? My driving history is 43 years. This is absurd, onerous and patently unfair,” he said.

Kirschbaum promises his union will aggressively fight the legislation. State House hearings are expected to be held in the coming weeks.

Last month, NBC Boston’s Investigators reported that numerous school bus drivers taking kids to school every day were getting behind the wheel carrying a hefty list of driving infractions.

Because the state would not release the names of disciplined drivers to NBC Boston, The Investigators took media reports of recent school bus crashes and pulled the drivers’ records.

Of the 28 records reviewed, half had eight or more significant incidents on their histories – at-fault crashes, speeding, using a cell phone, failure to yield to pedestrians, failing to use a child restraint, and failure to stop for a school bus, among others.

School bus drivers need two different state documents to drive kids: A commercial driver’s license issued by the Registry of Motor Vehicles, and a school bus driver certificate issued by the state Department of Public Utilities.

One of the major problems with the current state law is that the requirement that school bus drivers have a clean driving record. But there is no clear definition of what “clean” is. Gobi’s bill aims to fill in those details.

Thomas Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, was dismayed at the records of school bus drivers NBC Boston showed him. He said more work needed to be done to prevent people with poor driving records from getting state-issued school bus certificates.

“The fact that you’ve got three, four speeding tickets,” he said after reviewing a driver’s history. But a reporter then informed him that was just the first page.

“Ohhhhh,” he said. “That’s just page one? No way. No. No. You would not want that person driving.”

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