The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has released its safety recommendations following a November 2016 Baltimore MTA bus and school bus crash that took six lives and injured 11 more people. The agency’s report focuses on the Baltimore City Public Schools transportation department and urges the department to examine its policies regarding hiring and oversight of school bus drivers. Although a school bus was involved in the tragedy, there were no children present at the time of the crash, sparing parents the horror of losing a child. Unfortunately, there were many passengers on the MTA bus that were injured or killed in the accident, highlighting the importance of ensuring proper oversight of bus drivers in order to prevent further bus crashes.
Baltimore MTA Bus Crash Takes Six Lives
Tragedy struck Baltimore at around 7:00 a.m. on November 1, 2016, when a school bus, that was not carrying children, collided with a Baltimore commuter bus on Frederick Avenue. According to reports, it took more than two hours for rescue crews to make their way into the MTA bus.
The school bus was traveling to Dallas F. Nicholas Sr. Elementary School to pick up a child. As the vehicle moved along a curve next to a cemetery, it crashed into a Mustang and then crossed into oncoming traffic, colliding into the left side of the MTA bus.
Killed in the crash were the drivers of both buses and four people on the MTA bus. Injuries that ranged from minor to critical were sustained by eight people on the MTA bus, one person in the Mustang, and an aide who was on the school bus.
“It literally looks like a bomb exploded in the bus,” said Baltimore Police spokesman T.J. Smith. “It’s catastrophic damage.”
Officials noted there were no skid marks at the crash scene, indicating there was no attempt to slow the bus in the moments leading up to the crash.
NTSB Preliminary Report Cites School Bus Driver Health Problems
On December 7, 2016, the NTSB issued its preliminary report regarding the school bus and MTA bus crash. According to the agency, the school bus was traveling at about 45 miles per hour in a 30 mile per hour zone in the moments before hitting the MTA bus.
“Investigators found the school bus driver, 67-year-old Glenn Chappell, had a history of hypertension, diabetes, and seizures, and in the past five years, had been involved in at least 12 crashes or incidents while operating a school bus or personal vehicle,” the report notes. “Reports from a number of these cases described seizure-like episodes.”
Although the bus driver had a medical certificate, it was not on file with the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) leading that administration to pull the school bus driver’s authorization to operate a motor vehicle. Chappell was an employee of AAAfordable Transportation, who was under contract to transport public school students with special needs.
The MVA has said it had no record Chappell had health conditions and indicated the bus driver repeatedly stated he had no reportable medical conditions. He suffered a seizure-like event a week before the crash, and reports indicate paramedics phoned Chappell’s employer to alert them to his medical condition.
“Neither Mr. Chappell, his employer, AAAfordable, or law enforcement notified the MVA of any medical condition that may impact his ability to safely operate a commercial vehicle,” said Chuck Brown, spokesperson for MVA.
The NTSB continues to investigate the cause of the Baltimore MTA bus crash. Shortly after the accident, the Baltimore school system ended its contract with AAAfordable Transportation.
School Bus Driver Had History of Crashes
The NTSB safety recommendations cited a list of crashes Chappell had been in prior to the Baltimore MTA bus crash. Included in those was an October 14, 2011 accident in which the bus Chappell was driving struck three poles and hit a parked car after he “passed out,” and a September 23, 2015 crash in which he “sideswiped a parked vehicle, left the scene, and failed to report the crash.” Chappell received a 72-day suspension for both leaving the scene and not reporting the crash.
Among the NTSB’s recommendations were that the Baltimore City Public Schools request that the Maryland State Department of Education appoints a third party to conduct an audit of the transportation department and take corrective actions to improve internal controls regarding school bus driver qualification standards and that the Department of Education clarifies the definitions of disqualifying conditions.
“In the course of the investigation, the NTSB has identified deficiencies with the oversight of school bus driver operations and qualifications by the city of Baltimore and by the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE),” the NTSB noted in its report.
A statement from the Baltimore City Public School system highlighted the organization’s commitment to improving issues in its Transportation Department.
“In the five months since November’s tragic accident, city schools have established systematic and ongoing auditing of driver certification status, increased review of drivers following accidents regardless of cause or fault, enhanced programs for driver retraining and in-vehicle monitoring, and instituted new protocols to ensure timely sharing of information between contracted bus services and school district offices.”
The Baltimore MTA bus accident is a stark reminder of the terrible consequences of not having proper oversight and safety procedures in place to ensure the people driving buses are properly qualified and medically able to carry out their duties. With so many lives depending on bus drivers to transport people safely, it’s vital that we hold bus companies accountable to prevent further accidents in the future.