Congressman Steve Cohen

Representing the 9th District of Tennessee

Cummings, Duncan, Cohen Request Hearing on School Bus Safety

January 11, 2017
Press Release
Letter to Transportation Committee Chairman and Ranking Member Follows School Bus Accidents in Maryland and Tennessee

Washington, D.C. (Jan. 11, 2016) — Today, Congressmen Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD), John J. Duncan, Jr. (R-TN), and Steve Cohen (D-TN) sent a letter to Congressmen Bill Shuster (R-PA) and Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, to request a hearing on school bus safety.

“Despite a decent safety record, accidents still happen and they jeopardize the lives of our students,” the Members wrote. “Recent fatal school bus crashes in Maryland and Tennessee have raised urgent questions about the oversight of commercial school bus operators, including the adequacy of current procedures for assessing drivers’ medical fitness for duty and the safety history of companies that operate school buses.”

In November, six people were killed when a school bus crashed into a car, “then struck a pillar” in a cemetery and finally collided head-on with a public transit bus in Baltimore, MD.  The National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) preliminary report on the accident found that “The school bus driver had a history of hypertension, diabetes and seizures” and “In the past five years, had been involved in at least 12 crashes or incidents while operating a school bus or personal vehicle.”

Three weeks later, in Chattanooga, Tennessee, a school bus crash killed six children.  According to media reports, the driver in the accident was involved in at least one previous accident while operating a school bus, and “The private company that owned the bus has had 142 crashes with injuries and three fatalities in the past two years.”  An NTSB report on that accident is expected shortly.

The Members continued, “We urge the Committee to utilize its authority over the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to probe what more can be done to protect the nation’s schoolchildren, and whether any changes to federal law are warranted.  We ask that you convene a hearing early in the 115th Congress to provide Members an opportunity to examine this critical safety issue.”

Click here for a PDF of the letter. The full text follows:

The Honorable Bill Shuster
Chairman
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
2165 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC

The Honorable Peter DeFazio
Ranking Member
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
2164 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC

Dear Chairman Shuster and Ranking Member DeFazio:

We write today to ask that the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure convene a hearing early in the 115th Congress to consider safety in the operation of school buses.  In their overview of School Bus Safety, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) wrote that, “Every day across the country, nearly 500,000 buses travel a combined 260 million miles, carrying more than 25 million students to and from school and activities.”[1]  Despite a decent safety record, accidents still happen and they jeopardize the lives of our students.  Recent fatal school bus crashes in Maryland and Tennessee have raised urgent questions about the oversight of commercial school bus operators, including the adequacy of current procedures for assessing drivers’ medical fitness for duty and the safety history of companies that operate school buses.

On November 1, 2016, six people were killed in Baltimore, Maryland when a school bus crashed into a car, “then struck a pillar” in a cemetery, and finally collided head-on with a public transit bus.[2]  The NTSB launched an investigation of this accident and, on December 7, 2016, issued a preliminary report.  In that report, the NTSB stated that “The school bus driver had a history of hypertension, diabetes, and seizures,” and “In the past five years, he had been involved in at least 12 crashes or incidents while operating a school bus or personal vehicle.”  In addition, the NTSB found that although the school bus driver “held a current medical certificate,” he “was no longer authorized to operate a commercial motor vehicle” because that certificate “was not on file with the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration.”[3]

On November 21, 2016, a school bus crash in Chattanooga, Tennessee, killed six children.  Media reports indicate that the driver in that accident had had at least one previous accident while operating a school bus, and that “The private company that owned the bus has had 142 crashes with injuries and three fatalities in the past two years.”[4]  The NTSB has launched an investigation of this accident and, on December 1, 2016, the NTSB announced that it expected to publish a preliminary report “within the next few weeks.”[5]

While the NTSB investigations of these horrific crashes are ongoing, the facts in the cases that have come to light raise serious concern.  We urge the Committee to utilize its authority over the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to probe what more can be done to protect the nation’s schoolchildren, and whether any changes to federal law are warranted.  We ask that you convene a hearing early in the 115th Congress to provide Members an opportunity to examine this critical safety issue.

Sincerely,


[1] National Transportation Safety Board, NTSB School Bus Safety (accessed on Dec.9, 2016) (online at https://www.ntsb.gov/safety/Pages/schoolbuses.aspx).

[2] 6 Dead, 10 Hospitalized After MTA Bus, School Bus Collide in SW Baltimore, Baltimore WJZ (Nov. 1, 2016) (online at https://baltimore.cbslocal.com/2016/11/01/mta-bus-crashes-with-school-bus-in-southwest-baltimore/).

[3] National Transportation Safety Board, NTSB Issues Preliminary Report on School, Transit Bus Crash (Dec. 7, 2016) (online at www.ntsb.gov/news/press-releases/Pages/PR20161207.aspx).

[4] Driver Charged in Fatal Chattanooga Bus Crash Appears in Court, The Tennessean (Dec. 1, 2016) (online at www.tennessean.com/story/news/2016/11/29/hearing-delayed-driver-charged-fatal-chattanooga-school-bus-crash/94594048/).

[5] National Transportation Safety Board, Chattanooga School Bus Crash Investigation Update (Dec. 1, 2016) (online at www.ntsb.gov/news/press-releases/Pages/PR20161201b.aspx).