School bus drivers caught speeding

School buses. (KXAN Photo)
FILE - School buses. (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) -- It's against the law for school buses to go faster than 50 mph on any highway. The only exception: they can hit 55 mph on interstates.

KXAN discovered bus drivers speeding at districts across Central Texas—some with children onboard. Many districts have technology on their buses to track a driver's speed, but KXAN found most school districts don't check it on a regular basis.

While driving a Lake Travis Independent School District bus full of students last October, the bus driver was confronted by a parent who accused him of speeding. The bus driver, who did not want to be identified and no longer works for the district, told the parent he wasn't aware that he was speeding. Unaware because the bus's speedometer was broken, which the district confirmed.

The driver said he'd repeatedly reported the broken speedometer but nothing was done to fix it. "I was told you don’t have to do that because we're aware of it, you don’t have to report it because we already know," said the driver. "I said 'well why can’t we get it fixed?' And I was told, 'we can’t get the parts' and that didn’t sound right to me." The district used the black box on board the bus to confirm the driver was, indeed, speeding.

Another LTISD bus driver says their supervisors encourage speeding. “If you need to speed, to get to your stops on time, where we don't have schools or parents calling us, you speed through those neighborhoods,” said the driver, who also wished to remain anonymous.

“We do have drivers that speed,” said LTISD spokesperson Marco Alvarado, but he denies drivers are told they can drive fast. “As a district, we would never tell a driver to speed or to get children to or from school at any cost. We place the highest priority on student safety."

Districts with the tracking technology can run reports to check drivers' habits behind the wheel. LTISD says it will now consider monitoring the black boxes more often because of our investigation. “This is a very serious concern. You know we appreciate you bringing this to our attention; it's something we're going to look at,” said Alvarado.

"We do have drivers that speed."

Out of the 26 Central Texas school districts that responded, 15 confirmed they have the black box devices. Most districts told KXAN News they only review the data from the boxes if there is a complaint or an accident.

KXAN Investigator Brian Collister requested the data for the 2016-2017 school year and found dozens of drivers speeding. A Leander ISD bus driver topped out at 81 mph. A Hays CISD driver hit 78 mph on US 290 near Manor.

Hays CISD says a shortage of staff means they don’t have the resources to check the speed data regularly.

“When we're a little bit further staffed and we can, we will," said Hays CISD assistant transportation director Jessica Fischer. "The priority is obviously to keep their kid safe and we look at the overall picture and we're doing a good job there."

Austin ISD records show buses going as fast as 75 mph on a stretch of US 183.

"It’s not good to speed at all. I mean there is no question on that," said Kris Hafezizadeh, director of transportation at AISD.

Because of our investigation, AISD started checking their driver's speed. In the first week, the district caught 67 bus drivers speeding. Within the first month, more than 100 bus drivers were caught speeding. All of the offending drivers were either issued a verbal or written discipline. A month after the enforcement, AISD reported they only had five drivers speed--a 93 percent drop.

“When you do it daily, when you speak with employees on a daily basis then you sell the culture out more that you need to be safe, you need to watch the speed," said Hafezizadeh.

A school bus can do 60 miles if it has gone through a commercial vehicle inspection, but none of the districts KXAN interviewed had commercial inspections, only the standard state inspection, like the one you have on your car. KXAN did not find evidence that any recent school bus accidents were a direct result of the driver speeding.

Districts with Bus Speed Tracking

If you'd like to request the same information that was used in this investigation, you can send the district an email requesting any record showing the speed data for your child's bus. The request must be in writing, list your name, address and phone number. It should also include the bus number and the length of time you'd like the data to cover. KXAN has created an example you can use. The districts listed below have speed tracking software.

Example email: Please consider this a request for any record showing the speeds of bus #___ for the past ___ days/months. I am requesting a copy the record be sent to me via this email address. If the data is available in an Excel spreadsheet, please provide it in that format. Please contact me asap if this request is not clear. 

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