School bus safety issues under scrutiny in Hawaii after Tennessee tragedy

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The driver involved in Monday’s deadly school bus crash in Chattanooga, Tennessee was travelling at a high rate of speed on a narrow and winding road.

Johnthony Walker, 24, has been charged with vehicular homicide, reckless endangerment, and reckless driving in connection with the deaths of five children.

While the police investigation focuses on Walker, many across the country are turning their attention to longstanding safety issues, like seat belts on school buses and screenings of bus drivers.

What should parents know about the person who they’re entrusting their children to, and is that information even available?

Locally, the Dept. of Education tells us that the nine bus companies it works with statewide are private contractors, so it cannot provide any background information about a bus driver to parents. Companies are not required to report their driver rosters to schools.

We asked if the department does regular checks on bus drivers and were told up to four routine audits of drivers’ records are done yearly.

Two to three school bus drivers are let go each year for violations on their records.

Education committee chair Sen. Michelle Kidani says drivers are put through extensive background checks.

“The buses are under contract by different vendors. Drivers have to be screened,” she said. “They have to have a criminal background check — even look at their traffic abstract — and they have to look at what, if any, incidents are on those abstracts. They have to have a commercial driving license.”

State Sen. Will Espero says more could be done to keep parents in-the-know. “This looks like a situation where, if the law isn’t permitting it now, then we have to change the law. I believe parents should have the right to know regarding any adult who has contact with our students,” he said.

We reached out to a few of the contracted bus companies, but have not heard back from any of them.

The tragedy in Tennessee has prompted Maui representative Angus McKelvey to plan to re-introduce a safety bill requiring seat belts on school buses in the upcoming session of the legislature. We’ll let you know how that turns out.

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