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Clark County school bus crashes on pace to threaten record

Updated December 17, 2017 - 11:13 am

The Clark County School District is threatening to break its record for the most bus crashes in a year, according to district data extending through November.

At the approximate midpoint in the school year, schools buses had been involved in 275 crashes, 61 more than last year at the same time. Of those, 156 were considered preventable, meaning the bus driver was found at fault.

At the current pace, the district’s drivers would threaten the previous annual high of 551 crashes logged during the 2010-11 school year.

The district records any incident in which a bus comes into contact with another object — be it another vehicle, a pedestrian or a traffic cone, pole or a sign — as a crash. It also tracks both preventable accidents, in which the driver is at fault or could have done something to avoid the crash, and nonpreventable incidents.

“We want to make sure that the public knows there are times that a bus driver makes a misjudgment or miscalculation and there’s an error, but there’s also times when they don’t. And either way, it’s on the news because we’re in public education,” said Shannon Evans, the district’s transportation director.

No serious accidents since May

Most of the collisions this year have been minor. None has resulted in fatalities among students or drivers, and few have caused injuries.

The most serious recent accident occurred in May — before the start of the current school year — when a Ford Taurus ran a red light and struck a school bus near Nellis Boulevard and East Carey Avenue. The driver of the car was killed, and at least 15 students and the bus driver were taken to local hospitals for treatment.

There’s no clear-cut pattern behind the spate of accidents this year, according to district officials and accident reports. They happen just as often to novice drivers as experienced ones and at different times of the day.

Some speculation has centered on the fact that the district hired many new employees this year to fill all open driver positions for the first time in seven years.

But Evans said that there’s no evidence to support that claim and that the district does all it can to keep students and employees safe.

“We do everything we can to train our drivers, to provide support and ongoing training,” she said.

For school bus drivers, September tends to be a bad month, according to a Review-Journal analysis of district data on crashes. But this year, they got off to an even worse start, with a Clark County School District bus involved in a crash more than twice a day on average.

Bus Crashes

In the 30 days of September, not all of which were school days, district drivers were found at fault in 40 accidents, with other drivers getting the blame for 32 other crashes. Both were the highest numbers since July 2015, records show.

Classifying crashes

The district takes pride in its accident tracking system, noting that every accident starts a file. The district has a team of 19 investigators who work alongside local police to determine damage and fault.

In addition to logging the number of accidents per month, the district tracks the miles buses are traveling and standardizes the number of preventable accidents per 100,000 miles.

That’s an industrywide standard, according to officials, and also helps control for months in which there’s more bus activity than usual.

“We aren’t hiding anything. We are putting everything out there that does happen,” said Karen Johnson, the department’s director of compliance and safety.

Controlling a bus and the students along with it is no small task. Officials say drivers undergo constant training to help them master the road and the load.

“Drivers can come and ask for assistance at any time,” Johnson said. “If there is a pattern we see in a driving habit or driving behavior, then we work with the training department to provide assistance.”

The support union contract spells out progressive discipline for drivers involved in serious or repeated infractions, transportation officials said. Drivers are rarely fired because of accidents, but they may be taken off the road temporarily to undergo more training.

“We can also do a recommendation for demotion. We have transportation bus aides that have been promoted up to bus driver who haven’t been successful but were great as a bus aide,” Evans said.

Contact Meghin Delaney at 702-383-0281 or mdelaney@reviewjournal.com. Follow @MeghinDelaney on Twitter.

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