TEMPLE HILLS, Md. — A school bus driver for Prince George’s County Public Schools in suburban Washington, D.C., was charged with negligent driving after her bus left the road and tumbled 20 feet down an embankment. More than two dozen students were aboard the bus, but none was seriously injured.
Based on student accounts of the accident, the driver was reaching down for her purse to answer a call on her cell phone when she lost control of the vehicle and slipped from her seat.
The bus crossed the median and hit a pole before leaving the roadway. It came to rest in an upright position in a tree-lined embankment.
The driver, a five-year veteran, was issued a $75 ticket for failure to drive right of center and a $275 ticket for negligent driving. She was also put on administrative leave pending a school investigation.
Students and parents were angry about her alleged cell phone use. “She only had one hand on the wheel,” one student told reporters after the incident. “It’s not the first time that drivers have used their phones,” an upset parent said.
The crash brings into focus industry concerns about whether school bus drivers should be allowed to use cell phones while driving.
Nine states have banned school bus drivers from using cell phones while the bus is in motion. Maryland, however, has no such prohibition.
In Utah, a bill that would prohibit bus drivers from talking on a cell phone while driving was sponsored this past session by a lawmaker who happens to be a school bus driver.
Brent Huffman, pupil transportation specialist for the Utah State Office of Education, said the bill received committee approvals in the House and Senate but did not pass the floor of the Senate. “He says he’ll try again next session,” Huffman said of the legislator.
“There is no cell phone use policy of which I am aware at the district level at the present time,” Huffman added.
In Wyoming, state lawmakers have for four straight years considered a bill prohibiting cell phone use while driving, but the measure has failed each time, according to Leeds Pickering, the program manager for traffic safety and pupil transportation at the Wyoming Department of Education. Pickering said he didn’t know of any school districts that have an internal policy banning cell phone use among school bus drivers.
At Prince George’s County, the school district discourages bus drivers from using cell phones while driving but doesn’t prohibit them from doing so.