Records show CUSD school buses a safe way to ride - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Records show CUSD school buses a safe way to ride

October 24th, 2022 SanTan Sun News
Records show CUSD school buses a safe way to ride

By Ken Sain
Managing Editor

A Chandler Unified School District bus carrying 56 students was traveling south on Higley Road in Gilbert in August when a Chevrolet van at Palmdale Lane began making a left hand turn to go north on Higley.

According to the state Department of Public Safety report, the van did not have adequate space to complete the turn and it collided with the front of the CUSD bus. Three students and two adults reported minor injuries.

The Aug. 19 crash stands out because most of the incidents involving CUSD buses are very minor, and rarely include injuries, according to records obtained by the San Tan Sun News through a public records request.

National School Bus Safety Week was Oct. 17-21.

From Jan. 1, 2021, through August of this year, there were 16 incidents, most of them minor. The only one involving injuries was the August collision in Gilbert.

In that case, two of the students reported minor cuts. A third had said they were injured, but paramedics could find no injury. The bus driver has bruising on the left knee. The driver of the van was also injured and taken to the hospital.

“School buses are like the safest place for a child to be the way they’re built, the visibility of the bus, the compaction of the seats and how they are made,” said Lana Berry, chief financial officer for the district.

Perhaps the most serious incident involving a CUSD bus happened in late August 2021, when a school bus driver with nine Hamilton High School students was pulled over by Chandler Police after he had been filmed by a parent talking into his smart watch.

Officers took him into custody and placed on administrative leave. That driver no longer works for CUSD.

“I don’t know the particulars, specifically, on each individual case that took place,” Berry said. “But there are certain rules. For example, you cannot be on a cell phone. You can’t be online, you’ll lose your [commercial] license.”

All CUSD bus drivers must have a commercial drivers license (CDL). The district, like most others around the Valley, is facing a shortage of bus drivers.

Berry said they will hire new drivers who do not have a CDL and pay them while they get the training to earn that license.

CUSD also bumped up the pay for drivers last spring to both attract and retain drivers.

“So they got 4% the year before we gave an $1 adjustment in the second quarter,” Berry said. “So honestly, it went up $3 plus an additional 4% since last fall.”

Berry said CUSD buses transport about 12,000 of its 45,000 students each day to and from schools. However, she said that’s just the start.

“At some point, almost every child touches our school buses, if it’s an extracurricular activity, if it’s a sporting event, if it’s a field trip.”

The district employs about 175 bus drivers.

Nationally, a report from Zutobi says school-related bus crashes with deaths or injuries have fallen to their lowest level in a decade. Zutobi is a drivers education company.

It reported that accidents involving injuries or death plummeted 50% last year compared with 2019. The fact most schools were shut down for long stretches by the pandemic played a role in the decrease, according to the National Safety Council.

The website said that more than 400,000 yellow school buses provide transportation service daily in the U.S. to more than 22 million elementary and secondary school students.

“School buses are the best option for transporting kids to school, safer than both walking or riding in a car,” the National Safety Council says, urging the adoption of lap-and-shoulder belt safety restraints “to make them even safer.”

Here are some examples of the minor incidents reported by CUSD to state police:

On Sept. 9, 2021, a CUSD bus made contact with a railroad crossing gate. There was no damage or injuries.

On July 25 of this year, a bus driver was stopped at a red light and turned to speak to a student. His foot eased off the brake pedal and it tapped the bumper of the car in front of him. There was no damage to either vehicle or any injuries.

On May 6 of this year, a CUSD bus was making a left-hand turn when a second vehicle struck its student crossover mirror on Val Vista Drive. About 10 days later, another CUSD bus was waiting to make a left-hand turn when it was struck by the overhanging load of a second vehicle. In the first case there was no damage, according to the police report. In the second there were several cracks in the mirror.

On Feb. 1 of this year, a driver had trouble moving the large bus down a residential street. He had to squeeze between a parked car on one side and a garbage can on the other to pick up students. He made contact with the parked car.

“We try to do as much training as possible,” Berry said. “We try to work on that every year, but there are accidents that do happen. And there’s human decisions that get made. Unfortunately, sometimes there’s errors that happen. But for the most part, our kids have been very safe and riding a bus is a lot safer than in a regular vehicle.”