Nine students were injured, including one seriously, when the school bus they were traveling in struck a guardrail and overturned at the bottom of an I-10 bridge in New Orleans Wednesday morning.
The bus and driver, 33-year-old Chad Rodney, were supplied by Hammond’s Transportation, a New Orleans-based school bus company serving the Greater New Orleans area.
According to city spokesman Beau Tidwell, Mr. Rodney had applied for a city school bus permit on Sept. 24 but was denied because he had a 2016 conviction for possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. It is not clear why he was allowed to drive the school bus, which was taking 14 students to James Singleton Charter School, a pre-K to grade 8 school in Central City.
Under Louisiana law, school bus drivers aren’t permitted to operate a school bus for five years after such a conviction, Mr. Tidwell told The Times-Picayune.
Hammond’s also failed to get several school buses in its fleet inspected after they had failed several city inspections, Mr. Tidwell said, according to The Times-Picayune. The school bus involved in the crash, SB-219, had never undergone inspection required by the city’s bus safety rules.
The crash occurred about 7 a.m. in the westbound lanes of I-10 on the downtown side of the high-rise bridge. Investigators said it appears Mr. Rodney lost control of the bus after striking a guardrail, causing the vehicle to flip onto its side.
Six of the nine children injured in the crash were taken to University Medical Center for treatment and three were taken to Children’s Hospital.
According to The Times-Picayune, it is not clear why Mr. Rodney struck the guardrail, but police ticketed him with careless operation of a vehicle. He could face additional violations once investigators have wrapped up their probe of the crash.
School bus crashes that lead to the injury and/or death of student passengers often re-ignite calls for seat belt requirements at the federal level. Currently, federal transportation safety laws require the driver only to have a seat belt and leave it to the states whether to mandate seatbelts for students.
“The safety of children riding as passengers on school buses must be a top priority for those who are in charge of our schools and for those who own and operate school buses,” said Beasley Allen lawyer Kendall Dunson, who represented the family of a Huntsville, Alabama, high school student who was killed when her school bus plunged 30 feet from a highway overpass in November 2006.
That crash, which killed three other students and injured several others, led to a confidential settlement between the student’s family and the transit company that operated the bus and other defendants. Sadly, though, seat belts are still not required by law in Alabama despite scores of school bus crashes that have occurred in subsequent years.
Most school buses in Louisiana do not have seat belts, and a 2017 task force that examined the matter determined they should not be mandated in the state. The task force reported “school buses are already safe plus it’s not financially feasible,” according local CBS affiliate 4WWL News.
“School bus manufacturers rely on compartmentalization to protect children,” Dunson noted. “Compartmentalization can be effective in low speed, non-rollover crashes; however, in the event of higher speed and rollover incidents the children are at the mercy of the physics of the incident. We all know that seatbelts are effective in high speed and rollover incidents. For some reason, school bus manufacturers continue to get a pass and our most precious resource, our children, continue to suffer because of it.”