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October 11, 2010  |   Comments (4)   |   Post a comment

UPDATE: Driver in fatal Georgia bus crash lacked state certification


CARROLLTON, Ga. — Carroll County School System officials have acknowledged that the school bus driver who was involved in last week’s bus crash that killed 17-year-old Rashawn Walker did not have the necessary credentials to operate a school bus.  

District Superintendent Scott Cowart told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that trainee driver Kenneth Herringdine lacked the state certification needed to drive a bus with students on board, and that the school system misinterpreted the regulations imposed by the state Department of Driver Services.

The state requires school bus drivers to obtain three separate credentials: a commercial driver’s license, a "P" endorsement that permits them to drive a vehicle with 16 or more people on board, and an "S" endorsement that permits them to drive a school bus.

Cowart told the newspaper that Herringdine had passed the "S" endorsement written test and was undergoing the required hours of training with a driver trainer. He was scheduled to finalize his skills assessment for the "S" endorsement last Wednesday, two days after the fatal crash.

The district will now review the training for all of its bus drivers to ensure that they are fully certified. The district also will work with the state Department of Education and the Department of Driver Services to ensure its training process meets state requirements, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

As SBF previously reported, Rashawn Walker was killed last Monday when the school bus he was riding hit a ditch and toppled over after Herringdine reportedly lost control of the vehicle.

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The bus accident in Carroll County on October 4 was a terrible tragedy. It is and has been a sad time for the people associated with the accident and it affects all school systems that transport students. The accident has brought attention to the manner in which licenses are issued to potential school bus drivers. As a transportation director in a Georgia school system, I am concerned that the rash response of the press resulted in stories that shared only half truths. Media outlets rushed to gather information for a quick headline without the benefit of a full investigation. Instead of trying to be the first to produce an article the media’s priority should be to seek all the facts. While some in the media have pointed fingers at the Carroll County School System, we should all take consideration of the "gray" areas related to how the Georgia Department of Driver Services (DDS) issues classifications and endorsements for driver trainees. The process the DDS uses for bus driver trainees has problems that need to be addressed. The DDS process for new bus driver trainees is not appropriate. This is how the DDS in our area handles the process for issuing licenses to driver trainees: (1) The trainee takes the four written test, School Bus, Passenger, Air Brake and General Knowledge; (2) after passing all four written test, the DDS confiscates the trainees’ Class C license, and (3) the trainee has a new picture taken and a new temporary paper license is issued to them with Class BP (Bus Permit) and SP (Skills and Passenger) endorsements. However, when a trainee with a Class A (combination) or B (heavier weight) license goes into the DDS, they only need to take two written tests, School Bus and Passenger. After passing both written test, the DDS takes a new license picture but does not confiscate their current (Class A or B) license. Unlike trainees with a Class C license, the DDS does not issue them a new temporary paper license.

Ricky Canterbury    |    Nov 16, 2010 10:50 AM

Furthermore, the DDS does not give them anything in writing for their new classification and new endorsements. As far as DDS is concerned, now all Class A, B and C trainees are all equal in the eyes (in computer records only) of the DDS, but not on the actual licenses that they possess. If a Class A or B trainee asks for something in writing, they are told "you do not need anything; you are in the computer with a Class BP and SP Endorsement.” The new endorsements will be placed on your new license when you pass the three remaining skills test: Parking Lot, Pre Trip and Road Test.” When the Class A and B trainee comes back to their local school system, they have nothing to prove that they have passed any tests. There is no verification to permit them to get behind the wheel of a school bus. It creates a situation where it the responsibility of the local school system to trust the trainee or to call and follow up with the DDS for verification of endorsements. When the Class A, B and C trainees go back successfully completes all three Skills test; Parking Lot, Pre Trip and Road Test, the trainees receive a new hard copy of their permanent Class B license with S P endorsements. The legal ramifications of this are found in Georgia Code 40-5-150 "No person shall drive a vehicle which requires an endorsement unless the proper endorsement appears on the driver’s license". It is legal for only a Class C trainee to transport students while on private property/road and/or a public road because only their new paper license shows the new Classification of a BP with the new Endorsements of SP

Ricky Canterbury    |    Nov 16, 2010 10:49 AM

Therefore, a driver trainee with Class A and B endorsements cannot legally drive students on private or a public road until they pass the final three skills tests and are given their new hard copy Class B license with SP endorsements. This also means that this Class A and B trainee is not legal to perform their skills "Road Test" with the DDS Trainer because the BP nor SP endorsements are not on the license they possess while road testing. This creates a difficult and frustrating situation for the local school systems. The process must be improved and made more efficient. Clarity is not something that can go lacking where the safety of students is concerned. In closing, more efficient procedures on the part of DDS will protect drivers’ and prevent the kind of situation that has resulted following the Carroll County accident. If a trainee (driver) possessing a Class C driver’s license when applying for a school bus license had been involved in a similar accident, even with less experience in driving a larger (heaver) vehicle, he would have been covered by the Georgia Code 40-5-150. Therefore, there would be less negative statements against the school systems and Georgia Department of Education.

Ricky Canterbury    |    Nov 16, 2010 10:48 AM

"The district will now review the training for all of its bus drivers to ensure that they are fully certified" I hope the school is included in the lawsuit. This is another example of the LACK of enforcement in the school bus industry. The regs and rules are there in place and when a school district chooses to ignore or plead ignorance they should have to pay the price. WHEN are the states going to do their job and ENFORCE the regulations that they have implimented? Instead of worrying about seatbelts someone needs to address the important issue of unqualified, under-trained drivers that school districts should not have the control of hiring.

Lynette Russell    |    Oct 15, 2010 09:05 AM

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