Precious Cargo: Who’s Driving the Bus?

Joseph Ingle Bus Service safely shuttles hundreds of kids to schools along the South Shore every day. Owner Steve Ingle said he heavily vets each of his drivers, knowing that when parents put their kids on the bus, they put blind faith in the person behind the wheel, but he may be the exception.

"We're taking lives in our hands. Innocent lives," Ingle said. "Young lives — they trust us."

An NBC Boston Investigators review of 28 Massachusetts bus drivers' records and dozens of state bus certificate letters revealed an alarming number of drivers with a lengthy history of violations.

"Sometimes what we don't know is the problem," said Stephanie Gray, past president of the Massachusetts PTA.

Parents tells us they rely on schools to make sure. Schools say they trust the state to flag problems with driving records.

But NBC Boston's investigation found a breakdown in the system that may be putting dangerous drivers on the road.

"Public safety is their purview and the safety of children is no higher purview," Gray said.

In the records NBC Boston obtained through public records requests, the state would not release the names of drivers they've disciplined citing privacy concerns.

So we took media reports of recent school bus crashes and pulled the drivers' records, no matter whether they were at fault.

Even though it was a small sample, of the 28 drivers we reviewed, 50 percent had eight or more significant incidents on their record—crashes, speeding, license suspensions, using a cell phone, failure to yield to pedestrians, no child restraint, failure to stop for a school bus, among others.

Tom Scott heads the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents. He was stunned to see what the state deems acceptable.

Before one driver's last crash, she was found responsible in five other crashes, four cases of speeding, two cases of not restraining a child, and one failure to stop.

"Someone looked at this and made a judgment," Scott said. "What went into their thinking?"

Two separate state agencies together are responsible for bus

First, you need a commercial driver's license—and pass a road test, have a physical — from the Registry of Motor Vehicles.

Then you need a school bus certificate—and a review of criminal background, sex offender history, and driving record — from the Department of Public Utilities.

The Registry has the legal power to suspend or revoke a school bus driver's license on "reasonable grounds," but NBC Boston Investigators found that since 2010 the state has revoked certificates for just 21 out of about 11,000 drivers.

Spokespeople for both the Registry of Motor Vehicles and the Department of Public Utilities declined requests for interviews.

According to the RMV, a driver must have a "clean record," but DPU would not give us a definition of "clean," instead referring us back to the state statute.

The state said that school bus drivers have to be reviewed and re-approved every year, and they now require police to report any arrests to the RMV.

But one long time driver, who has never been arrested, has decades of infractions and keeps passing muster.

"There's no way that person should have a license," Scott said after reviewing the driver's history. "That’s a problem."

Of those most problematic drivers NBC Boston Investigators looked at — those with eight or more incidents — more than a third of them still have active school bus certificates.

"Somewhere, somehow, someone should have said stop," he said.

Scott said he plans to tell superintendents to monitor the hiring of their bus drivers more closely and demand the same of outside transportation contractors.

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