How do you know the person driving your child to and from school is safe?
The NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters found there's a pretty high bar for applicants to pass to get the license required to drive a school bus. The investigation found there are several holes in that system, including an acknowledgement by police that they're not holding up their end of the bargain.
"You're pretty much putting the safety of your children in the school bus drivers' hands," Kristin Fuentes, a mom from Bristol, said.
That driver admitted to taking methadone and also said he may have taken Nyquil instead of Dayquil. He has entered not guilty pleas to 30 felony counts of risk of injury to a child, but was immediately fired.
The NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters did an extensive investigation into what safeguards are in place to ensure the men and women who transport our kids every day are safe.
DATTCO Chief Operating Officer Cliff Gibson said in his industry, there's no room for error and finding good drivers is a challenge.
"They have to like children, have a good temperament. They have to be safe drivers of course, but that kind of is expected," Gibson said.
State law requires anyone seeking a school bus endorsement on a commercial drivers license to clear several initial hurdles:
- state and FBI criminal history checks
- a check of the state child abuse registry
- a drug test
- and they must have a clean driving record.
That's before an applicant begins a nearly two-month training program.
Once they're certified, drivers receive ongoing training, physical exams and are subject to random drug tests. Plus, they're held to a higher standard than the typical driver, according to Bill Seymour, spokesman for the Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles.
"All C.D.L. holders need to be very careful of what they do and that they obey all of the laws whether they're behind the wheels of their private vehicles or they're in the vehicles, most importantly, that their C.D.L. is required for," Seymour said.
Any conviction on a motor vehicle infraction in their personal vehicle or on the job will lead to a suspension of an endorsement to operate a school bus.
Furthermore, school bus drivers must be pulled off the road if they are arrested for any felony or fourth-degree sexual assault.
"The police are required to report to us the arrest of someone when they find out that they have a public passenger endorsement or a school bus driver's license," Seymour said.
That notification must happen within 48-hours.
"The state in this law is being a little bit more preemptive as opposed to waiting for a conviction which may be a year or more down the road," said Monroe Chief of Police John Salvatore, who is president of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association.
But the Troubleshooters spoke with officers in several local departments who tell us they knew nothing about the law. Salvatore said his inquiries revealed there's far less compliance than he expected.
"I realized that we were not as familiar with the statute as we should be. I just appreciate your bringing it to our attention. Hopefully, we preempted any negative outcome," said Salvatore.
Salvatore said he has sent a memo through the chiefs of police throughout Connecticut to reemphasize the reporting requirements of law enforcement.