DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Putting your children on a school bus can be a challenge for many parents. Who is behind the wheel is a big question?
The CBS 11 I-team began digging into records after an 85-year-old bus driver crashed a Dallas school bus into an apartment complex in downtown Dallas last November.
The school day had ended and a bus load of children headed home in East Dallas.
Britney Henderson saw the bus turning into her Oak Cliff apartment complex. “You could see the bus coming, getting ready to turn.”
And suddenly something went terribly wrong. “I thought it was a bomb or something.”
The entire front end of the 20,000 pound vehicle came to a halt inside Henderson’s home. The bus punched a hole into the side of the building. Only the back end stuck into the parking lot.
Henderson and her children had just walked out of the kitchen where the bus came to rest.
“The bus hit directly up in here,” Henderson said, pointing to the wall. “It knocked all this out.”
Months later, Henderson remembered the impact as she looked up at the now patched wall where you can still see new paint.
“I was standing right on the other side, right by the kitchen.”
Henderson and her three children, age one, two and three, all got out safely. And no one was seriously hurt in the crash.
At the time, the Dallas County School District reported that the 85-year old bus driver had a heart attack.
The CBS 11 I-Team visited the driver’s South Dallas home, but she did not want to talk on camera.
We have learned the driver is one of two 85-year-old drivers working for Dallas County Public Schools, the bus company that serves Dallas ISD. Fifty-three bus drivers are over 75-years-old. Twelve of those are over 80-year-old. And the two youngest drivers are 21.
At Fort Worth ISD, who operates their own bus service, four of the drivers are over 75-years-old. The youngest is 23-years-old.
No one wants to talk about age, whether you’re too young or too old to be behind the wheel of any vehicle, but recent accidents and research are raising questions nationwide about what is safe.
A U.S. Department of Transportation report on fatal bus crashes found bus drivers under 30 and older than 60 were more likely to cause a crash than those who are middle-aged.
Doug Shupe is with AAA Texas. He says research on senior driving shows vision, hearing, reaction time, and medical conditions can impact driving at age 60- or even younger.
AAA Texas provides resources for drivers and families on their Senior Driving website.
But there is one unanswered question. “There is no set number…there is no magic number when people should stop driving,” says Shupe.
And this makes it very difficult for school districts.
Fort Worth Independent School District Public Relations Officer Clint Bond says, “Just to say the age of a driver is the sole reason that that person should not be behind the wheel, I don’t think is one – fair to those drivers, or two – realistic. First of all, it’s the law. The law says you cannot discriminate based on age alone.”
Federal law requires airline pilots to stop flying at age 65. Military officers must retire at 62. Federal Bureau of Investigation Agents must retire at age 57. But there are no national standards for train operators or bus drivers. Texas law requires school bus drivers be at least 18-years-old. There is no maximum age requirement.
Dallas County Schools Public Relations Officer David Escalante says, “If there was a problem or anything with someone’s age, we’ll definitely listen and understand but we also have to take into consideration that we can’t violate any federal or state laws.”
Both Dallas County Schools and Fort Worth ISD say they regularly check their bus drivers driving records and their drivers take mandatory refresher courses behind the wheel every three years.
Britney Henderson says her heart goes out to the driver who crashed into her home, but she believes age is an issue that should be addressed.
“I just don’t feel like she should have been behind the wheels of a school bus.”
(©2013 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)
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