WASHINGTON COUNTY, TN (WJHL) – Three years after a speeding bus driver flipped her bus and injured more than two dozen students, some Washington County, TN school bus drivers are still speeding, according to district GPS data.
Nearly fatal crash results in GPS on every bus in school system
As a result of the 2012 Mount Wesley Road crash the school system installed GPS monitoring devices on all 110 of its buses in January 2014, in part to keep an eye out for speeding. GPS data obtained through a public records request revealed there were 116 instances of speeding over a two-week period last month on more than 40 different roads.
Every time a bus hits a certain speed over the speed limit, usually six or seven miles over, the GPS sends an alert to district administrators.
16 drivers, 121 speeding alerts over two weeks; No reprimands
Not only did the GPS send out more speeding alerts than there are buses between Oct.14 through Oct. 27, almost half of those were for drivers going at least 10 miles over the speed limit.
Records reveal 16 bus drivers were responsible for the 121 speeding alerts.
Assistant Director of Schools Roy Gillis says he reviews the speeding alerts daily.
“Very few of our drivers will ever have an incident where they will appear on this for speeding,” he said.
Our investigation revealed few drivers will ever get reprimanded for speeding too. Dr. Gillis said he did not reprimand a single driver last month for those 121 instances of speeding. However, he said he did call some of them, reminding them they need to slow down.
“Bus drivers know without a doubt that we’re watching,” Dr. Gillis said. “If it’s a severe speeding event they get a phone call. If there’s an incident more than three times within the week then we are going to give them a call.”
Four drivers punished in 2014
According to public records, the district has reprimanded four bus drivers for speeding since installing the GPS devices. According to Dr. Gillis, all occurred in 2014 and all were linked to a day’s worth of speeding incidents.
He equated the low number of reprimands as a sign that the GPS devices are working.
“This has made a difference in the speeding events as well as the safety events on our school buses,” he said.
Gary Onks says he hasn’t noticed a difference. He lives on Summit Drive on a stretch of road with a posted speed limit of 30 miles per hour.
“Two out of three of them’s good drivers and keep it under control, but one I can’t say a whole lot about, good about,” Onks said. “It’s frustrating. (My neighbor and I) have hollered at them before.”
GPS speeding alerts show during a 10-day period last month a bus driver went over the speed limit five times on Summit Drive. The driver’s speed on that 30 mile-per-hour stretch was anywhere from 39 to 43 miles an hour. That same driver went above the speed limit five times on other roads too during that time, according to the data.
“I don’t want to get anybody in trouble, but people like that need to be put back in their place,” Onks said.
Public records show of the four drivers reprimanded in 2014, one was caught speeding three times in one day on Summit Drive. The top speed in 2014 was 12 miles over the speed limit.
“It was excessive,” Dr. Gillis said of the 2014 incident.
The numbers show that driver actually went above the speed limit 11 times on that 2014 day.
“That’s unacceptable,” Dr. Gillis said.
“Once you get to 12 miles over the speed limit, as a parent I’d be concerned,” we said.
“We are concerned,” Dr. Gillis said. “We’re concerned if they go one mile over the speed limit. However, we don’t call every bus driver that goes over. There’s got to be a point of leniency or a reasonable amount.”
Father says speeding drivers should be punished
The October 2015 data reveals the system sent 17 alerts for two of the 16 drivers. One of those two went 54 in a 40 on Bobby Hicks Highway in Gray.
“I think it needs to be dealt with more harsh,” Charlie Bunton said. “I don’t want nobody to go through what we did.”
Bunton knows about speeding bus drivers all too well. His daughter Cheyenne nearly died after the 2012 bus crash.
We showed him some of the numbers.
“Just uncalled for,” Bunton said. “Cheyenne’s going to have my first grandchild. He will never ride a bus.”
District responds to News Channel 11 inquiry
Bus drivers take part in safety training every year. This year’s training took place around the same time we requested all of the speeding data.
Because of that training and our inquiries, Dr. Gillis says the drivers have become even more aware than ever.
He maintains none of the speeding instances would have justified reprimands because he says there were other factors at play.
“That may have been on the same road where that that person was maneuvering up a hill or down a hill,” Dr. Gillis said. “It may be on a stretch of road that recently changed speed limits or had a sudden drop. The posted speed limit on many roads may drop 10-15 mph; thus depending on the grade of the road a bus may actually speed up slightly when approaching a hill, generally momentarily, but just enough to maintain the rpm of the engine to smoothly approach the hill, thus a 5-10 second excess speed may occur. On the other hand, a driver may simply release the accelerator and not necessarily apply breaks when approaching a lower speed limit thus allowing the bus to coast a few seconds while slowing down to the lower speed.”
Dr. Gillis says sometimes the speed limit changes and the GPS doesn’t update immediately to the new speed, which makes it appear like the bus is speeding. That was the case in at least 11 of the 121 instances.
“Occasionally, on some roads speed limits are changed from time to time and will provide a reading that appears to be speeding,” he said. “For example, a stretch of Highway 353 which crosses Bailey Bridge has recently been changed from a 35 mile-per-hour speed limit to 45. Some time will occur before the GPS has been reset to the correct posted limit; until the correction has been made a bus will appear as speeding on the GPS record.”
Back on Summit Drive, Gary Onks says the rules are the rules.
“I know they’ve got a tough schedule, but they need to stay within the speed limit,” he said.
There is a bright spot. Out of the district’s 110 drivers, the GPS data shows 94 were following the rules.
Most drivers following speed limit
Washington County was the first district to voluntarily install GPS devices in our region. In addition to speeding, the GPS helps keep tabs on other safety and mechanical issues.
We found out Johnson City, Kingsport and Sullivan County do not have GPS devices on their buses. Bristol, Tennessee does and administrators say their system can monitor speeds, but is not able to send speeding alerts.
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