Lafayette Parish working to prevent future bus accidents

It’s a question on many minds in the past week, after a Lafayette bus driver, suspected of driving under the influence, slid off the roadway with 12 children on board.

 “Are there steps going to be put forth in the future to prevent what happened?” asked Brett Latiolais during Wednesday night’s school board meeting.

The Director of Transportation, Damon Evans was in the process of presenting the safety measures bus drivers follow when Latiolais, District 8 school board member posed the question.

Evans responded, “What happened was one man’s choice. If he had come to me and told me ‘hey Damon I have a problem,’ then we could have worked on that and helped him.”

It’s unclear whether the March 12th accident was caused by issues in driver John Bernard’s personal or professional life. It is known that John Bernard. A 14-year veteran driver submitted to two blood alcohol tests following the accident and resigned from his position less than 4 days later.

The incident has led to discussions on bus driver safety and stress on the job. Evans presented figures that show the amount of bus incidents in Lafayette parish have increased since 2010 from  48 to 69. Other figures show drivers make 17,000 stops a day, traveling 4.5 million miles a year. The first pick-up in Lafayette is at 5:15AM and there are 287 full time drivers who transport 15,000 students.

            Jeremy Hildalgo, board member for district 8 said “I know we have had a problem hiring bus drivers. It’s been going on for quite some time.”

            The number of full-time and sub bus drivers is so low, nine central officer workers for the school system double as drivers; including Evans.

            Hildalgo is not in favor of having central staff work the two jobs, but Evans says it’s absolutely necessary.

            Evans explained, “We always struggle keeping drivers. The main thing a driver must do is be safe and distractions on board, long routes and dozens of stops a day can sometimes play a factor in accidents. Some are unavoidable. Was that (recent) one avoidable? Probably.”

            School leads suggested more drivers and busses during the board meeting. Evans suggested letting school out earlier to avoid traffic to help reduce accidents

            As for the latest accident involving a suspected impaired bus driver, Evans said, “I have some online modules that would allow the staff to go through training so that we can spot warning signs, because we cannot let this happen again.”

            The results of Bernard’s toxicology tests have not yet been made public.

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