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NTSB Investigation Examines Preventable School Bus Fatalities
A single bus driver with a history of blackouts was responsible for half of school bus riding fatalities in 2016.

Baltimore bus crash
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will meet Tuesday to discuss a pair of tragic school bus accidents that took a dozen lives in 2016. While some school administrators have cited school bus fatality numbers as a reason to install stop arm cameras, these two preventable incidents in Baltimore, Maryland, and Chattanooga, Tennessee, accounted for ten percent of the national school bus-related death toll, and nearly half of the students killed while riding a bus that year.

In Baltimore on November 1, 2016, Glenn Chappell, 67, drove a school bus carrying a teacher but no students. At some point on Frederick Avenue, Chappell blacked out, rear-ended a 2012 Ford Mustang, crossed over into the opposite lane of traffic and slammed into a Maryland Transit Administration bus. Both bus drivers and four MTA passengers were killed. Another seven transit bus riders sustained major injuries.

According to the safety recommendations adopted by the NTSB in March, Chappell had no business being behind the wheel of that bus. In the five previous years, Chappell had been involved in a dozen crashes, including a 2011 incident in which he "passed out" in the school bus and struck a parked car. Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS) did nothing, nor did the school system notice the eleven criminal history alerts available on the state background check system.

"The NTSB is concerned that these BCPS shortcomings in its oversight of school bus drivers place BCPS students, as well as the public, at risk," investigators wrote in a March 29 report.

Two months before the crash, the Maryland Department of Education, which is based in Baltimore, issued the results of its survey of the state's 24 school systems focused on how many tickets could be issued for "stop arm" violations. So far, Frederick, Montgomery, Prince George's and Washington Counties use school bus ticketing cameras.

In Chattanooga, the 24-year old driving the bus carrying 37 students on November 21, 2016, lost control near a slight curve on a narrow stretch of Talley Road. The driver, Johnthony Walker, was on his cell phone and was traveling too fast for the conditions, ultimately and slamming into a utility pole, flipping the bus and taking the lives of six children. In April, Walker, who escaped with minor injuries, was convicted of negligent homicide. Walker is scheduled Monday to appear before Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Don W. Poole who was asked by Walker to reconsider his four-year prison sentence. Walker also faces civil suits from the families of the victims.

In 2016, a total of thirteen children died while riding a school bus. In the last decade, two out of three school age pedestrians were struck by school buses, not passing motorists.

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