A crash each school day: Are JCPS buses safe?

JCPS bus #0424 was involved in this injury crash on January 7, 2013 at Brownsboro Road at Drescher Bridge.
JCPS bus #0424 was involved in this injury crash on January 7, 2013 at Brownsboro Road at Drescher Bridge.
JCPS Communication Specialist Ben Jackey
JCPS Communication Specialist Ben Jackey

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - The stakes couldn't be much higher, and the cargo couldn't be more precious. Hundreds of thousands of children ride school buses in our area every day, which is why when one of those buses is involved in a crash, it stops the hearts of countless parents. Is it something that's happening too often?

It seems like we can't go a day in Louisville without reporting on a Jefferson County school bus that's been in a crash.

Parents notice.

"It's just not safe on the buses," said Marie Terry, who has a grandchild who attends a JCPS elementary school. "They have to travel too far."

"For the most part, most of them have been [caused by] other drivers," JCPS parent Lisa Dunbar said of the crashes.

The school system pays attention.

"Probably the only accident they'll see on the news all day is going to be a bus," said JCPS Communication Specialist Ben Jackey.

So the question is: what's going on aboard these JCPS buses? Are they crashing too frequently?

"Of course you don't want your kid to be in a bus wreck, so it does concern you when your kids have to take a bus," said JCPS parent Sarah Wheatley.

WAVE 3 News wanted to get to the heart of the matter. What do the numbers say about how safe your students are when you send them to school each day?

"I get this question all the time: Are our buses safe?" Jackey said. "I think anyone in the bus industry or the transportation industry as a whole will tell you that buses are some of the safest vehicles that you can be in on the road."

We requested JCPS crash data from the last four years. The numbers: 70,000 students ride one of 961 JCPS buses every day. Last year, 249 of those buses were involved in a crash, a number that's held steady over the last four years.

"There were some 38,000 accidents in Jefferson County that were reported, there's obviously a lot more that weren't reported," Jackey said. "We accounted for about 250 of those last year and only about 70 of those were our fault."

JCPS said its buses run about 19 million miles a year, so that's one crash every 72,000 miles a JCPS bus is on the road.

We took it a step further to compare apples to apples: How does JCPS stack up to a school system using roughly the same number of buses, traveling about the same number of miles? For that, we looked east to Charlotte-Mecklenberg County Schools in North Carolina.

Last year, CMS traveled just over 19 million miles, the same as JCPS, but it saw a spike in its number of crashes -- 351, which is one crash every 54,000 miles driven.

To be fair, the number of accidents in Charlotte was abnormally high during the 2012-2013 school year, but Jackey still believes JCPS is doing a good job keeping its students safe.

"I can see the perception when you consider that people are seeing it on TV all the time," he said. "In all reality, when you look at the number of cars on the road, the number of accidents, the number of buses and the number of accidents, that is not the case, and it's not reflective of the truth, which is that our buses are safe and our drivers are safe, as well."

In addition to just the numbers, we also requested accident reports over the past few months. After reviewing them, we determined the vast majority of crashes -- whether the fault of bus drivers or not -- occurred at low speeds and injuries to students were rare.

The Commonwealth of Kentucky requires drivers to have at least 20 hours of classroom learning and six hours of testing those skills on the road before they can get behind the wheel of a school bus. Jackey says JCPS drivers have three times that amount of training.

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