WDRB SPECIAL REPORT | Are school buses going too fast?
In just minutes, we clocked eight buses speeding. And that was just the start.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Are school bus drivers driving too fast?
It's not the first time we've asked the question. Four months ago, a WDRB News investigation looked into the prevalence of speeding buses on interstates, main streets and interstates. We checked for speeding buses over five days in mornings and afternoons to and from school in September and found a number of infractions.
That investigation drew a strong response from viewers. Many called WDRB and sent messages asking us to check for speeding buses again.
"I think bus drivers just need to be reminded that they need to stay within speed limits," said Linda Duncan, a member of the Jefferson County Public Schools board.
Our investigation in November clocked about 20 speeding JCPS school buses on interstates and side streets. So over three days in the mornings and afternoons, we used the same type of radar police use.
"I always tell them to go five under the speed limit, and that way it's safe, and you don't have to worry about getting pulled in the office for speeding," said John Stovall, who represents the bus drivers union.
A viewer captured video appearing to show two JCPS buses going at least 10 miles over the speed limit on I-65 last month.
For our investigation, we only counted buses going at least 10 miles per hour over the speed limit. We went back to Newburg Road near the Watterson Expressway. In just minutes, we clocked eight buses speeding.
Overall, we saw 30 school bus drivers breaking the law. We caught five buses speeding on a section of Cane Run Road where the speed limit is 35 miles per hour. Bus No. 1108 was going 47 miles per hour.
This time, WDRB uncovered a more surprising place buses are speeding: school zones. On a section of Southern Parkway near several local schools, a school zone speed limit sign shows the speed limit as 25 miles per hour during certain hours. We found 12 speeding buses in the school zone on one afternoon.
On Southern Parkway, we found buses going 36 in a 25. Bus No. 1217 was going 42 miles per hour. The biggest violator was going 24 miles over the 25 mile-per-hour school zone speed limit. It was Bus No. 1261 going 49.
Also on Southern Parkway, Bus No. 1065 was going 39 in a 25.
"I'm still concerned," said Mike Raisor, Chief Operations Officer for JCPS. "I'm not sure if it's the same people. If they were, that's a big problem."
We ran the radar near Mill Creek Elementary School on Dixie Highway and found Bus No. 518 going 35 in a 25 mile per hour school zone.
We also clocked two school buses speeding near Rangeland Elementary School.
On Preston Highway near Okolona Elementary School, a bus going was 39 in a 25.
Stovall was confronted about whether bus drivers should know better about speeding in a school zone, seeing flashing lights.
"Unless you drive that bus, you don't know what's going on," he said. "I'll be honest with you: If I had some of them on the bus, hell I'd speed too. I'd want to get them off the bus."
He said two factors lead to the speeding: the fact that the district is short 200 bus drivers, and the students are unruly on board.
"I've been behind the bus," he said. "I rode five buses last year. I was threatened to be stabbed. I was threatened to have my eyes cut out."
The bus union wanted WDRB to see firsthand what happens on the bus by riding a troubled route, but JCPS denied our request and won't release bus video.
Our investigation found it wasn't just JCPS buses that were speeding through the school zone. A St. Agnes school bus and a St. Margaret Mary bus were each going 16 miles an hour over the speed limit.
Miller Transportation operates those buses.
"Our top priority is the safety of the students we transport," said John Miller of Miller Transportation. "The importance of complying with traffic laws is a key part of our driver training program. We therefore take traffic violations very seriously. Should a traffic violation involving one of our drivers be brought to our attention, we will fully investigate the incident and take appropriate disciplinary action, as well as provide retraining for the employee.
"Neither of these buses triggered a speeding alert. Our system is flawed in that it does not change the speed limit in our system during 'School Zone' periods. Thanks for bringing that to our attention. To address this flaw we are adding a reduced speed 'School Zone' topic to the March employee newsletter and our summer 8 hour update."
Miller said their buses are set to give an audible alert to the driver at 10 miles over the speed limit, but after our investigation, the company decided to lower that to five miles over.
JCPS admits its system doesn't alert the district when buses are speeding.
"I think it would be ideal if we had somebody monitoring," Duncan said. "Mostly, we rely on complaints."
So what are the repercussions for speeding bus drivers?
"Coming from Fort Knox from Dixie Highway, I'm riding next to a bus doing 63 miles per hour," Kaiser said. "I got pulled over, so I kind of cracked up. I asked the officer about it, and he didn't want to respond."
Kaiser said there's a reason you don't see officers pulling over many buses.
"It's an unspoken rule: don't pull them over, because it stops them from getting their shifts done and getting the kids to school on time," Kaiser said.
As a video shows, police did bust a JCPS bus driver for speeding in a school zone in November, saying he admitted to going 42 in a 25 on Johnsontown Road in a school zone.
WDRB uncovered the letter the district gave to the bus driver saying. It said, in part, "When an employee receives a citation in a school bus, it does not make a favorable impression upon our students, parents or the general public."
It goes on to say future incidents could lead to the loss of the bus driver's job.
Duncan said she's not just concerned about speeding buses but overall bus safety. In December, three JCPS buses were involved in a crash on Dixie Highway and Blanton Lane.
"My concern is what the bus driver saw when he was driving," she said. "There was no braking. He went straight into the back of the bus in front of him."
Her grandson was on that bus and got a bloody lip from slamming into the seat in front of him.
JCPS said more than 40 students were taken to the hospital for minor injuries.
"It's pretty self-evident: all of them were following too close," Stovall said. "I think the biggest thing is getting staffing up. That will take the pressure off of them being in a hurry to go pick them up."
JCPS said safety is a top priority, and the issue of speeding buses isn't a surprise, but it's still concerning.
"It's something we're going to have to address," Raisor said. "But what I can tell you, we're not telling people, 'Speed just get the kids home as fast as you can.' That is never condoned."
Some residents said they want to see more buses cited for speeding to try and slow them down. Kaiser has this message for JCPS:
"If those were your children, how fast would you be going?"
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