FactFinder 12: School bus drivers better with age

Published On: May 08 2014 08:53:23 PM CDT   Updated On: May 09 2014 05:35:14 AM CDT
(DERBY, Kan.) -

When it comes to our children, safety never takes a back seat.

Parents may recall the terrifying scene in Douglass last Halloween when a school bus was washed away from a flooded bridge. The bus ended up on its side in a muddy creek and scared children escaped through a hatch. Investigators determined 63 year-old bus driver Morris Peterson made a poor decision to cross the bridge.

This incident and other crashes prompted FactFinder 12 to learn more about the people who drive children to school everyday.

Licensed Older Drivers of School Buses
Older School Bus Drivers Involved in Accidents

"I drive special ed and wheel chair kids and I just love them," says Dennis Perrine. The 66 year-old Cessna retiree is finishing his second year as a bus driver for the Derby school district.

For Perrine, it's not about the money. It's about having something to do every day.

"Keeps me active. Keeps my mind going," he says.

Perrine is part of a growing trend in Kansas of folks near or above retirement age becoming bus drivers. And statistics show these may be just the people you want taking your child to school.

According to data provided by the Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT), the number of school bus drivers in the state age 55+ has nearly doubled since 2008 -- from 3880 to more than 7200 in 2013. That includes a 660% percent increase in the number of drivers 85 and up. Five drivers are in their 90s.

A closer look at the numbers shows total school bus accidents are down at least 14 percent every year during the same time period. In 2008, KDOT reports 281 school bus accidents. Last year, the number was down to 209. And injuries were cut more than half during the same six year period, from 61 to 29.

"They take the training real serious and the safety very serious which is a huge thing for us. Safety is the biggest part of the job," says Will Young, Director of Transportation for Derby schools.

Young was not surprised by the crash numbers. As a whole, he feels retirees are a more stable and experienced group of employees.

With increasing age may come more concern about the physical capabilities of bus drivers. FactFinder 12 found most school districts were uncomfortable talking about how they montior older drivers because of worries about privacy and age discrimation

To become a school bus driver in Kansas one must meet the requirements for a commercial driver's license, or CDL. That includes passing a one time driving test.

From there, federal law requires drivers pass a physical every two years. It includes a urinalysis to check for health problems. It also checks hearing, vision and other necessary functions. Beginning this month, such tests must be given by licensed medical examiner.

"There really is no cap age limit when it comes down to DOT (Department of Transportation) physicals," says Dr Blake Baty.

Baty operates a business in Wichita called DOT Medical Examiners of Kansas. He is one of the testers responsible for making sure a driver is fit. It's not an exact science, however, as the system relies on drivers being honest about their medical history. Still, Baty believes we are "getting the cream of the crop" when it comes to older bus drivers.

As for Perrine, he has no plans to stop driving.

"I think I got 20 more years," he says. And maybe that's a good thing.