Inadequate Safety Inspections Blamed For Missouri School Bus Crash

On August 5, 2010 on Interstate 44 in Gray Summit, deadly elements combined to produce one of the most horrific multi-vehicle accidents in Missouri history.

Almost a year-and-a-half after the accident the National Transportation Safety Board has issued a report on the crash. The NTSB report concluded that most of the fault was due to distracted driving, but current school bus safety practices in Missouri also were questioned.

NTSB Report on Missouri Bus Crash

The NTSB speculated that in the moments leading up to the crash, a teenage driver of one of the vehicles involved in the accident was texting at the same time as a bus driver for St. James schools wasn't paying attention to the road. Behind the bus driver, another bus from the same school was following too closely. Somewhere in the mix was a semi tractor trailer. When they all collided in a four-vehicle pileup, two people died and 38 others were injured.

NTSB inspectors reported the St. James buses had faulty brake systems, leaking master cylinders, cracks in the brake pads and corroded and leaking brake lines. Just 10 days before the accident, inspectors gave those buses passing grades.

Missouri Bus Inspection Laws

By Missouri statute, every bus in the state used to transport children to and from school must be inspected twice each year: once by the Missouri Highway Patrol and another time by a state-certified garage. The St. James buses were inspected both by a local tire shop in St. James and by the highway patrol.

The owner of the local tire shop was quoted as saying, "If I'm guilty, they're guilty, because they also inspected them."

Indeed, just five months prior to the accident the highway patrol had inspected the St. James fleet and found it to be okay. But NTSB investigators say the inspections performed by both the highway patrol and the tire shop were inadequate.

Currently, inspectors are not required to remove the back wheels of a bus if it has dual rear wheels on each side. Most Missouri school buses are aligned this way. By making removal of rear wheels mandatory, inspectors likely will discover the problems that plagued the St. James buses. Finding these issues sooner will be a step in ensuring that another horrific crash like the one near Gray Summit never happens again.