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Our View: CCPS must take steps to ensure ‘rash of bad luck’ ends

Two Carroll County Public Schools buses collided Wednesday, injuring three students, in the 5200 block of Braddock Road in Woodbine.
Two Carroll County Public Schools buses collided Wednesday, injuring three students, in the 5200 block of Braddock Road in Woodbine. (Dave Pribulick/Courtesy photo)

We wrote on Jan. 9 that Carroll County Public Schools officials should always err on the side of safety for students when making decisions about whether to delay or cancel school days for weather. It goes without saying that bus drivers need to exercise the same safety-first mentality every time they get behind the wheel.

That editorial was spurred by a collision of two school buses in Woodbine on Jan. 8, on a morning when schools were delayed two hours because of snow. Since that editorial was published, there have been two more crashes involving school buses in Carroll County. Just as we can not have bus accidents that were preventable based on foreseeable poor weather conditions, we can’t have bus accidents that are the fault of the bus driver.

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The first of the past week’s two crashes happened when a vehicle tried to pass a CCPS bus and was struck as the bus made a three-point turn on a dead-end road in Marriottsville on Monday, according to school officials. Fortunately, no injuries were reported. In the second crash, on Wednesday, four students suffered minor injuries when a bus was hit while turning into Manchester Valley High School.

That made five collisions involving a total of six CCPS buses over a span of just 11 school days going back to the final day before winter break, when two accidents occurred. Luckily, most of these accidents have been minor and no one has been seriously injured.

It seems impossible to draw any connections between the five crashes, with causes that have involved bus driver error, poor road conditions and mistakes made by drivers of other vehicles. The school district has 42 contractors who provide bus drivers to the schools, and all six buses involved in the past five crashes have had different contractors, according to Mike Hardesty, Carroll County Public Schools director of transportation. We are inclined to agree with Hardesy when he called the recent spate of crashes “a rash of bad luck.”

Still, it’s a disturbing short-term trend.

The most serious of the five collisions occurred last week in Manchester. The bus turned left from Maple Grove Road into the high school entrance and into the path of a 2001 Dodge Neon driven by a 50-year-old Taneytown man, said Jonathan Light, public information officer for Carroll County Sheriff’s Office. Four of the 23 students on board said they suffered injuries and were seen by emergency medical services, according to CCPS.

Police found the bus driver, a 65-year-old Manchester man, to be at fault and issued him traffic citations. Additionally, Hardesty noted that the bus driver “did not follow our procedures" after the crash.

This can’t happen. Parents shouldn’t have to worry about their kids getting to school safely after putting them on the bus. Carroll County’s safety record has been solid, but the school system is on pace for more accidents than last school year and is trending at about 25% more accidents than Charles County, which is the closest school district to Carroll in terms of enrollment.

We’ve frequently cautioned drivers to be careful around school buses, to watch for kids getting on and off and to heed the stop arm and the blinking lights. Last week we cautioned CCPS to be more careful when deciding whether to hold school after or in the midst of inclement weather.

Today we insist that the school system and the bus companies it contracts with be proactive in reaching out to all school bus drivers to let them know about this recent rash of incidents, and about the fact that some of them were preventable, and then go through a refresher course on all procedures and the importance of following them. They should also issue a reminder that whether they are longtime drivers or relatively new, vigilance is needed every time out. Because safety isn’t just the most important part of the job, it is the job.

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