School Bus Safety: As lawmakers push for change, WREG questions SCS about Durham oversight

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Getting children to school safely on school buses has always been a concern for parents.

The topic is now getting even more attention from advocates and lawmakers.

Six children died, and some 30 others were injured in a crash in Chattanooga in November 2016.

On Thursday, the Tennessee Senate unanimously approved a bill requiring bus drivers to be 25 or older. It still needs approval in the House.

Johnthony Walker, the driver in the Chattanooga crash, was 24-years-old at the time.

Another bill would require safety belts on school buses.

As some legislators look toward greater oversight, WREG sat down with Shelby County Schools to find out how it works with Durham to assure students remain safe.

Records show Walker was speeding before the crash. In speaking with media outlets, parents said they'd previously complained about Walker's driving and behavior.

So how can parents be assured their district isn't missing any red flags regarding drivers?

Cerita Butler works in the Business Operations Division of SCS which oversees transportation.

"Student transportation safety is the top priority," said Butler.

We sat down with her to discuss school bus safety after combing through the district's roughly $25 million a year contract with Durham School Services.

The company is one of the largest in the country, the same contractor from the Chattanooga crash.

Butler added, "We do monitor that safety aspect on a monthly basis, there's a monthly scorecard and reportable, preventable accidents."

After reviewing data, WREG found from August to early January there were 56 accidents, a number that's been roughly cut in half from the same time last year.

There were only four cases where the driver got a ticket, which is one of the measurements SCS reviews.

"We're looking at fewer than two per month, preventable accidents where a citation was issued to the driver," said Butler.

Despite the improvement, more than 50% of the accidents were still considered preventable.

That's also the case when looking at the numbers over the last three years, combined.

WREG asked, "When you look at a statistic like that, anything the drivers, the district, anyone could do differently?"

Butler replied, "Durham places a heavy focus on training their drivers."

Butler says if there's a concern, it's usually addressed during weekly meetings.

"Both Shelby County and Durham takes the transportation and the safety of the students very seriously."

SCS' contract with Durham also requires it monitor metrics such as on time arrivals, mechanical and technical failures on buses as well as non-reported crashes.

The district also monitors staffing, terminations and complaints.

WREG also inquired about complaints regarding Durham and its drivers. There were roughly 200 complaints over the current and previous school year.

The New Channel 3 Investigators have obtained copies of half of those.

WREG will be reviewing the records.

In December 2016, Durham announced major plans to address safety.

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