10 News Investigators: School buses running reds and facing little discipline

11:32 PM, Sep 24, 2012   |    comments
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TAMPA BAY, Florida - They're responsible for your children's safety, but sometimes school bus drivers don't follow the letter of the law. And when they don't, you'd be surprised at the lack of discipline they face.

The 10 News Investigators utilized public records to identify dozens of Tampa Bay-area bus drivers who have been caught by red light cameras, including several with multiple violations.

But not one local school system automatically disciplines drivers when they're caught red-handed running red lights. Drivers can get anywhere from one to three warnings before they're temporarily taken off the road. By comparison, drivers for Hillsborough Area Region Transit (HART) buses face an automatic 3-day suspension for their first offense caught on a red light camera.

Each school district has a slightly different progressive discipline policy for drivers, where offenses earn points, which result in warnings, suspensions, and eventually terminations. Policies are usually negotiated with the bus drivers' unions.

The most lenient district in the Greater Tampa Bay when it comes to red light camera citations is the Pinellas School District, where drivers receive "coaching," but no points, for their first violation. A second offense garners three points, which only yields a "letter of caution" if the driver has no other incidents on file. A third offense is three more points, which earns a driver a "letter of reprimand."

It isn't until the fourth offense that drivers are removed from behind the wheel for a suspension or possible termination.

"They're paying a fine on top of that, too," said Rick McBride, Pinellas County's transportation director.

Drivers in all counties have to pay the $158 fine when they're caught running red lights in school buses. However, 10 News found several isolated incidents where drivers were not held accountable if the school district did not inform the municipality of whom was behind the wheel.

McBride added that if drivers do not pay the fine immediately, the district sends an affidavit to the law enforcement agency to identify the bus driver. That action increases the fine to the driver by almost $100.

The 10 News Investigators compiled a list of local school district policies for drivers who get caught running red light camera intersections (given no prior incidents on-record):

Hernando (0 RLC citations last year) - warning on first offense; suspension on second offense
Hillsborough (8 RLC citations last year) - warning on first offense; suspension on second offense
Manatee (0 RLC citations last year) - warning on first offense if no students on-board, safe driving course if students are on-board; suspension on second offense
Pasco (1 RLC citation last year) - warning on first offense; suspension on second offense
Pinellas (12 RLC citations last year, 1 this year) - coaching on first offense; letter of caution on second offense; letter of reprimand on third offense; suspension or termination on fourth offense
Polk (4 RLC citations last year) - warning on first offense; safe driving class on second offense; possible loss of driving privileges on third offense
Sarasota (0 RLC citations last year) - warning on first offense; suspension on second offense

After a certain amount of time, often 12 months, but sometimes longer, drivers can "reset" their violation count. They can also face quicker suspension or termination if they're at-fault for accidents or receive other moving violations.

Find 10 News Investigator Noah Pransky on Facebook or follow his updates on Twitter. Send your story tips to noah@wtsp.com.

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