Many Tampa Bay area counties on pace for record-breaking year for school bus crashes

Fewer Accidents in 2017 But 2018 On Track to Be Up

Kids are heading back to school in Hillsborough County this week, so we have an update to our investigation into school bus crashes throughout Tampa Bay.

Paul LaGrone sifted through six years worth of data to find the new numbers and the disturbing trend that continues.

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We crunched updated crash numbers for every county in Tampa Bay. And since our story aired 18 months ago, we found most of our area is on pace for a record-breaking year when it comes to crashes directly involving school buses.

Since our last story, the surge in bus crashes has not only continued, but some counties are on pace for a record-breaking year

Using Florida's Integrated Report Exchange System (FIRES) database, which provides access to data and documents related to crashes occurring in the state of Florida, and the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, ABC Action News analyzed new crash data county by county.

The results show that while most counties in the Tampa Bay Region had fewer school bus accidents in 2017 compared to 2016, this year many of those same school districts are on pace to have an increase in bus crashes for the 2018 calendar year.

The calculations assume that the pace of accidents continues, which it may very well not, and accidents could in fact go down.

But as schools kick off the first half of the new school year and with five months left in the 2018 calendar year, this is how the data breaks down:

-In Hillsborough County school bus accidents on pace to be up 25 percent from 2017.

-Manatee County is tracking up 27 percent for 2018, which would be a new record.

-Hernando is also on pace for its worst year for school bus accidents, up a whopping 166 percent.

And in fast-growing Pasco County, School Bus accidents are ticking up seven percent, again assuming the pace stays the same for rest of 2018.

"It’s controlled chaos," says Tad Kledzik , Director of Transportation for Pasco County Schools.

It's chaos fueled in part by fast and furious development

"I think in part I would attribute to the rapid growth we are starting to see again, the traffic patterns, the changes in traffic patterns," says Kledzik.

But the numbers are not all bad.

In Polk County, bus accidents are clipping down 11 percent for 2018. Sarasota is set to be down 18 percent.

And the success story of Tampa Bay is densely populated Pinellas County.

Four out of the last five years the number of school bus accidents in Pinellas has been going down. The county is on pace for an 8 percent drop this year, its second-lowest since 2012.

Rick McBride, Director of Transportation for Pinellas Schools credits extra training for the decline.

"I feel like we're doing over and above what is required of our training," he says.

That training includes an extra 30 hours of behind the wheel training. Experienced drivers mentor new drivers. And the county does a five year DMV background check on all drivers with an updated check every quarter.

While most of the accidents we report on are not the bus driver’s fault,  there are lingering questions about driver qualifications after a Hillsborough County bus driver was found to be speeding when the bus he was driving crashed into a pond.

He was later found not guilty due to a lack of evidence.

Hillsborough County school bus driver who crashed into pond ruled not guilty

Attorney Michael Maddox sued the Hillsborough County School District, representing the parents of some of the children on that bus. 

The Hillsborough County School Board settled the cases.

"They need to look at increasing wages, performance reviews, look at driving histories," says Maddox.

"What we learned is there are a lot of problems with hiring retention and informing the parents so that they can make decisions about whether they want their child to get on the bus whether it be that day, or that route, or that particular driver," he says.

Hillsborough County School officials stand by the quality of their drivers and their screening process.

They point out while bus accidents are on pace to be up in 2018, assuming that pace continues, accidents were down in 2017 from 2016. They also point out that when you look at school year vs. calendar year, the data shows crashes are down as well.
 
ABC Action News also broke down the data month by month over the last seven years and found that April was the worst month for bus accidents.

The bottom line is the data shows the volume of bus accidents in Tampa Bay continue to go up as we head into a new school year.

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