9 Investigates: CMS bus involved in crash may have been recalled

CHARLOTTE — Editor’s Note: A previous version of the video at the top of this page showed a picture of someone in a neck brace -- who we have now learned was not on the school bus. We were in contact with a woman who claimed to have two children on the bus. But we’ve since learned the picture she sent us is from another incident altogether. We apologize for the mistake and are committed to making sure it doesn’t happen again.

Channel 9 has been investigating and found records that indicate the school bus involved in a serious crash on May 11 on Sharon Road West may have been recalled. We ran the VIN number for bus 222 and found the report.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the bus has one open recall for the foam in the seats -- it doesn’t meet federal standards.

“The lack of impact absorption increases the risk of injury in the event of a crash,” the recall said.

There were 15 students on the bus when it was hit by a dump truck and 14 of them were taken to the hospital for their injuries.

According to a crash report, the driver of a dump truck fell asleep and crashed into the school bus and another car. The dump truck driver has since been issued a citation for driving left of center.

Channel 9′s John Paul spoke to one mother who said her daughter was on the bus at the time of the crash. She said her daughter had cuts and bruises after hitting her mouth when she was thrown from her seat.

“Physically and mentally, it was traumatizing yesterday,” parent Amonie Greene said. “She does not want to ever see the inside of a school bus again. Doesn’t want to see the inside. She’s in a lot of pain, physically. Don’t want to ride the bus anymore. It had a really significant impact on her.”

We reached out to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools about the open recall and the district initially said it was aware of a recall issued in 2019 for certain school buses. Then a week later, CMS confirmed 114 buses were impacted by the recall and that 92 still have to be repaired.

According to the district, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration determined the buses involved in the recall were safe to operate normally until they could be fixed.

“The fact that this was a known issue -- we need some answers. Parents, we need answers. Kids, we need answers for them,” Greene said.

CMS said it is waiting on Carolina Thomas, a division of Daimler Trucks North America, to resolve the issue and for more information.

Full statement from CMS on May 18:

“Student safety is the top priority at Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools as our Transportation team transports over  72,000 student riders, travels 114,00 miles each day  in over 900 school buses.   According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration( NHTSA) the school bus is the safest vehicle on the road and is heavily regulated through state and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations.   

“Therefore upon learning of the recall and potential impacts to CMS buses the district quickly responded and began working with Carolina Thomas to repair and install additional material on our buses at no charge to CMS. All bus repairs are expected to be complete within the next month.  At this time there has been not been a recommendation through NHTSA to take buses out of commission.

“CMS bus drivers and staff work hard to ensure the safety of our students as they transport them to and from school daily.

“Most recent report from Carolina Thomas is that there are 92 buses left to repair out of 114.”

Full response from CMS on May 11:

“CMS is aware of the recall issued in 2019 for certain school buses and is waiting on Carolina Thomas, a division of Daimler Trucks North America, to schedule service to resolve the issue. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration deemed the school buses involved in the recall safe to operate as normal until repairs could occur. CMS is also waiting on information from Carolina Thomas as to the number of school buses impacted by the recall.”

School bus has open recall, but law says buses don’t have to be fixed

(Watch Action 9 investigator Jason Stoogenke’s report on these recalls in the video above)

After the school bus crash, CMS told Channel 9 it was aware of a recall and was waiting to get the school buses fixed. CMS pointed out that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said the buses were still safe to use in the meantime.

Action 9′s Jason Stoogenke found that Daimler had issued the recall in October 2019 and started repairs in June 2020. So, next month will be two years.

But, legally, nothing says school officials have to get recalls on school buses fixed.

According to the report that Daimler submitted to federal safety officials just a few weeks ago, 65% of the school buses with this issue nationwide had been repaired.

“That’s good that they got them repaired, but the scary part is 35% of the school buses out there with this issue haven’t been fixed,” said Michael Brooks with the Center for Auto Safety.

The crash also raises the age-old question about seat belts on school buses.

Federal law doesn’t require them. Neither do the Carolinas. In fact, the states actually do the opposite -- they have child passenger safety laws that say children need to buckle up, but these laws explicitly say full-size school buses are exempt.

>> North Carolina law

>> South Carolina law

In recent years, South Carolina lawmakers introduced at least two bills to change its law, but neither made it out of committee.

According to buckleupnc.org, “Large school buses are not required to have seat belts and therefore are exempt from the NC Child Passenger Safety Law. These buses rely on strong, closely spaced, energy absorbing seats to “compartmentalize” and protect passengers during a crash. The size and construction of school buses as well as compartmentalization make them very safe vehicles. In fact, injury rates are much higher for children riding in their parents’ cars, vans, SUVs, and other personal vehicles than for school buses.”

But the Center for Auto Safety still thinks seat belts are a must. The group petitioned NHTSA to require seat belts on school buses. In 2015, the head of the agency, Mark Rosekind, gave a speech, indicating he agreed.

“As NHTSA’s administrator, my primary role is as the leader of our agency. NHTSA has not always spoken with a clear voice on the issue of seat belts on school buses. So let me clear up any ambiguity now: The position of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is that seat belts save lives. That is true whether in a passenger car or in a big yellow bus. And saving lives is what we are about. So NHTSA’s policy is that every child on every school bus should have a three-point seat belt. NHTSA will seek to use all the tools at our disposal to help achieve that goal, and today I want to launch a nationwide effort to get us there,” Rosekind said.

But the Center says it hasn’t seen any progress.

“A lot of folks put their kids on the school bus and assume it’s the safest place they can be,” Brooks said. “Well, we’ve seen a lot of circumstances where we don’t believe that’s the case.”

The Center for Auto Safety says that if you’re worried about school bus safety:

  • Pressure school officials to stay on top of recalls.
  • Urge lawmakers to stop exempting buses from child passenger safety laws.

This is a developing story. Check back with wsoctv.com for updates.

(WATCH BELOW: 17 hurt in crash involving school bus, dump truck; 15 students expected to be OK, MEDIC says)