Impaired and Intoxicated Bus Drivers are Endangering Children’s Lives
A story from USA Today published January 10, 2020 stated that thousands of children across 38 states have been in danger by intoxicated school bus drivers. Since 2015, 1,620 children have been in a school bus where an impaired bus driver was cited or arrested for driving under the influence. Some drivers were drunk from alcohol, others were high on synthetic marijuana, pain pills, or anti-anxiety pills. Pew Research’s Stateline looked at police records, news media reports, and court fillings to obtain this information.
In the last 5 years, police caught 118 bus drivers who were operating a school bus while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Almost all of the 118 cases contained alcohol, but a third of the drivers had also taken drugs. Other impaired drivers were identified through random drug and alcohol tests, but 260 drivers refused to even take a test. A third of the cases involved a bus crash, with about 3 dozen children being injured. Some children had to go to the emergency room for their injuries.
During the research, it was discovered that some states could not identify their own cases, even though Stateline had found them. In 50 states, only 11% could produce any data on impaired bus driving incidents. There is a lack of monitoring for this issue. Ron Replogle, national law enforcement initiatives manager for Mothers Against Drunk Driving said, “This needs to change. States need to be collecting this data and tracking it very thoroughly. This is something parents and the general public would want to be monitored closely.”
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Impaired Bus Driver Cases
One story from Newark, New Jersey states that bus driver Lisa Byrd was driving 12 students from school when she crashed the bus into a tree. The children were ages 5 to 13 and were special needs students. Police stated that Byrd was high on narcotics and overdosed, causing her to crash the bus. Drug paraphernalia was found inside the bus, and officers had to administer Narcan to Byrd for the apparent overdose.
Another impaired bus driver named Richard E. Tanguay from Biddeford, Maine was driving the high school hockey team home when he was pulled over for speeding through a construction zone, failing to stay in his lane, and failing to signal lane changes. The trooper who pulled him over detected sign of impairment, and although no alcohol was reportedly involved, Tanguay was suspected of being under the influence of drugs. He was charged with operating under the influence of drugs and endangering the welfare of a child.
In September 2019, Catherine L. Maccarone was making some of her last stops of the day when a child called 911, stating that the bus driver passed 3 red lights and was wobbling. The child stated that the driver was drunk. When police arrived, they stated that they smelled an obvious odor of intoxicants and the driver was arrested for allegedly driving under the influence.
Recently, a Westchester County, New York bus driver named William J. Mendez was driving third, fourth, and fifth graders home from school when students on the bus started calling their parents saying Mendez was driving erratically. Transportation officials radioed Mendez, telling him to pull over, and when they arrived, he had a blood alcohol level of .22%. that is almost 3 times higher than the legal driving limit. The man was charged with a felony because the children in the bus were under 15. This sparked the suspension of the school’s district transportation director Joe Bernardi. There was a meeting on January 7, 2020 to review the districts transportation policies and procedures.
Addiction in Low-Income Americans
While people from all backgrounds can develop an addiction, low-income Americans are at an elevated risk. According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people on Medicaid and other low-income individuals are at a high risk for prescription drug overdose. The limited access to quality health care makes them more likely to be prescribed opioids at higher doses for longer periods of time. This increases the risk for addiction. According to Zip Recruiter, the average annual salary for American bus drivers is $33,768, while some are making less than $30,000 a year. This puts them in the low-income category, and they may face psychological stress as a result.
Stress increases the risk for addiction, and many low-income individuals do not have access to effective treatment or feel that they cannot take time off work to seek treatment. It does not appear that any children in the impaired bus driver’s accidents were killed, but that is something that can easily happen with an intoxicated person behind the wheel. It is important to intervene if someone you know is driving under the influence.