Just weeks into the school year, two school bus drivers have been arrested and charged with driving a bus while impaired.
In Billings, Montana, police on Thursday arrested a driver on suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs and felony criminal endangerment. He had 28 students on board.
And in Bryant, Arkansas, a driver was charged Aug. 27 with driving under the influence of drugs, careless driving and endangering the welfare of minors after, police say, she drove her bus off the road into a ditch.
Nationwide, more than 1,620 schoolchildren in 38 states have been put at risk since 2015 by bus drivers arrested or cited on suspicion of driving while impaired by alcohol or drugs, a Stateline investigation in January found.
Police have caught at least 118 drivers in that time, and more than a third of the cases involved a bus crash.
Stateline also found that no one at the state or federal level appears to track these cases involving school bus drivers, and many state agencies weren’t even able to compile such information.
School transportation groups say school buses are the safest means for students to get to school, and most drivers would never put children at risk. None of the incidents found by Stateline resulted in a bus driver or passenger fatality, and most of the students were not injured.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, about 480,000 buses carried more than 25 million students to and from school and other activities, such as sports events and field trips, each school day, according to Charlie Hood, executive director of the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services. While many drivers work for school districts, about a third are employed by private bus companies that contract with districts.
This school year, some schools have returned to in-person classes while others have not and are continuing remote learning.
Hood said he doesn’t know how many buses currently are in operation because there’s such a wide variety of opening plans that affect transportation.
In the Montana case, a school staffer notified an officer that multiple students riding on the bus were reporting “erratic and unsafe driving behavior,” according to a Billings Police Department news release.
In the Arkansas case, the bus driver was “noticeably impaired” while speaking to an officer, according to the Bryant Police Department. Tests showed that she was under the influence of prescription drugs, police said. Eleven children were on board.