Tony Pipitone

How We Did the Story: Bus Driver Investigation

Who's driving your kids to school?

Every day, you see them: big yellow school buses driving children to and from school.

But have you ever wondered who is driving your kids? 

That was the question that led NBC 6 into researching driving records of over 2,000 bus drivers working for Broward and Miami-Dade County Public Schools.

Among the questions NBC 6 had: Who are the worst drivers? What about repeat offenders? How do school districts track bus drivers’ infractions?

NBC 6 found the school districts use forgiving systems which allow repeat offenders, to stay behind the wheel after causing vehicle crashes and committing serious traffic infractions. NBC 6 also ran into obstacles obtaining the public records and relevant information we requested.

Florida State Statute says that school districts must check driving records "for each regular school bus driver, substitute drivers, or any other individual certified to drive a school bus by the district, prior to initial employment, and before the first day of the fall semester."

A tool school districts use is the Automated School Bus Driver’s License Record Check System, showing incidents such as traffic tickets, crashes and suspended licenses, to name a few. This is not limited to infractions while driving a bus, it also includes tickets in personal vehicles. 

The weekly reports come from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles and are kept by the Florida Department of Education. NBC 6 obtained the names of bus drivers employed at both school districts during the 2014-2015 academic years. That helped us built a database of traffic infractions issued to drivers in both school districts.

During the research process, we requested the policies used in both districts to hire drivers, monitor driving records and discipline drivers when necessary.

We delved into disciplinary actions issued during school board meetings in both school districts and built a spreadsheet with all school bus drivers disciplined during the past four years. 

NBC 6 also requested red light tickets involving school buses. School districts get the tickets because they own the buses.

We contacted America Traffic Solutions, the Arizona-based company that provides red light cameras to many cities in Florida, who provided videos showing Broward and Miami-Dade buses running red lights.

We wanted to know what the school districts use in-house to monitor drivers and their tickets. So we requested copies of the Automated School Bus Driver’s License Record Check System for the academic years of 2014-2015 and 2015-2016.

This, however, proved to be difficult.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools gave us an estimate of $283 to provide us with paper copies of the weekly reports and other data. School officials said at the time that it was not possible to provide us with an electronic copy of the database.

Because this information is public record under Florida Public Records Laws, we requested to inspect the records for the years of 2014-2015 and 2015-2016.

We had also requested a copy of the "Safe Driver Plan Tracking System," listing bus drivers who have been convicted in traffic court for infractions, points accumulated and any disciplinary action taken by the school district, which is usually built in-house every year.

The transportation department in Miami-Dade provided a spreadsheet at no cost.

But we spent months trying to obtain the same records and other documents from Broward’s transportation department. We were told during a meeting with transportation officials that staff combs through thousands of pages by hand every week after the IT department prints the pages for them.

And that was the reason they gave for being unable to provide the Automated School Bus Driver’s License Record Check System.

When the estimate arrived to get paper copies, it was a thousand dollars.

The struggle to obtain records from Broward County District’s transportation officials didn’t end there. In February, we received an estimate of $1,064 to obtain a list of drivers whose driver’s license has been suspended for traffic violations and any disciplinary action taken by the school district.

Then, we got an estimate for $1,012 and $707 when we requested vehicle accident reports and disciplinary actions and any video and pictures for 14 bus crashes that we had documented during our research. We had filed this records request in January and were still negotiating in April.

We agreed to trim down our list from 14 to six crashes. 

At the end, we got the crash documents and some pictures from Broward at no cost – minus one accident the school district says they have no record of.

As we compared bus drivers disciplined with those listed in Miami-Dade’s safe driver plan tracking list, we noticed that 17 bus drivers who have been disciplined were not listed on the tracking list.

When we asked transportation officials about the discrepancies, they acknowledged that the main office doesn’t have a centralized tracking system. Instead, all the information about the bus drivers and disciplinary actions is kept at each of the eight bus barns.

School officials said our questions have prompted them to change that.

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