WASHINGTON, D.C. — The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released on Tuesday the abstract of the final report for its investigation into the fatal 2018 crash in Indiana, in which a motorist failed to stop for a school bus.
The NTSB determined that the Oct. 30, 2018, Rochester, Ind., crash, which killed three students and injured one other, was caused by the failure of Alyssa Shepherd, who was driving a pickup truck, to stop for the school bus, according to a news release from the board. Shepherd did not stop the truck despite the bus’s activated and clearly visible warning lights and stop arm, as well as a roadway warning sign for an upcoming school bus stop.
Contributing to the cause of the crash was the Tippecanoe Valley School Corp.’s inadequate safety assessment of school bus routes, resulting in the prevalence of bus stops that required students to cross high-speed roadways to board a bus, according to the report. Additionally, there was no clear policy established by the school corporation for school bus drivers to follow in determining when it was safe to signal students to cross a roadway to board a school bus, the NTSB’s report stated.
As School Bus Fleet previously reported, the fatal collision happened when Shepherd failed to stop her pickup truck for the school bus, which was stopped on the northbound side of a two-lane road with a posted 55 mph speed limit. The bus had stopped to pick up students who were waiting on the opposite side of the road. The school bus’s red warning lights were active, and its stop arm was extended, according to the report.
After being signaled by the school bus driver to cross, four students entered the roadway. Shepherd’s pickup truck, which she was driving southbound, struck the four children. As SBF previously reported, Shepherd struck the four students, killing 6-year-old twins Xzavier and Mason Ingle and their 9-year-old sister, Alivia Stahl, and seriously injuring an 11-year-old boy, later identified as Maverick Lowe. None of the occupants of the pickup truck or others waiting for the bus were injured.
The NTSB noted in the report that Shepherd did not respond to the bus’s activated warning lights and stop arm or attempt to stop the vehicle until the students were in the roadway, for reasons that cannot be determined from the available evidence.
As SBF previously reported, Shepherd was convicted in October of felony reckless homicide, as well as of a felony count of criminal recklessness, and a misdemeanor count for passing a school bus causing injury when the stop arm is extended. She was sentenced in December to four years in prison and three years of house arrest, three years of probation, and her driver’s license was suspended for 10 years. She is appealing her conviction.
“When our school-aged children walk out the door to meet the school bus in the morning, parents have the right to know that everything possible is being done for their safety,” said NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt. “This crash tells us that we can and should do more. While the school bus is still the safest way for students to travel to and from school, it is imperative that other drivers on the roads obey the law and stop for a school bus that is loading or unloading students.”
As a result of the investigation, the NTSB has issued a total of 12 safety recommendations. The recommendations address safety issues including deficiencies in establishing safe school bus routes, failure of other drivers to stop or respond safely when approaching a stopped school bus, and a need for greater use of technologies to prevent collisions and mitigate injuries.
The NTSB issued two recommendations each to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA); the Tippecanoe Valley School Corp., and the Indiana Department of Education. Those addressed a training program for transportation directors on routes and stops; a process to track complaints about routes and stops; and training drivers and students on crossing procedures.
Four recommendations were issued to the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services, National Association for Pupil Transportation, and National School Transportation Association. Those covered informing members of the circumstances of the Indiana crash, as well as the Baldwyn, Miss.; and Hartsfield, Ga., crashes, and urge them to minimize placement of stops where students must cross a roadway; advising members to complete related training; and to continue coordinating with local law enforcement on efforts to reduce illegal passing.
Twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia; the International Association of Chiefs of Police, National Sheriffs’ Association, and National Association of School Resource Officers each received one safety recommendation. For states, the recommendation was to enact legislation to allow stop-arm cameras on school buses to capture images and allow citations to be issued for illegal passing incidents based on the evidence from the cameras. The NTSB recommended that law enforcement agencies continue working with school districts on efforts to mitigate illegal passing incidents.
The report also reiterated three previously issued recommendations to NHTSA: develop minimum performance standards for connected vehicle technology for all highway vehicles; require the technology to be installed on all newly manufactured highway vehicles, and incorporate pedestrian safety systems into the New Car Assessment Program.
New recommendations to NHTSA include evaluating how effectively the entities include school bus operations in their safety self-assessment reports, and evaluating the effectiveness of technologies designed to reduce illegal school bus passing, and publish and disseminate the results.
An abstract of the final report, which includes the findings, probable cause, and all safety recommendations, is available here.
The NTSB expects to publish the full final report online in the next few weeks.
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