School bus speed controls and GPS locators make big mistakes

School bus (Photo: Sinclair Broadcast Group)

If your child's bus driver is speeding or driving recklessly, would your school district know?

A News 4 Trouble Shooters investigation found some districts can't track their buses and others purchased tracking systems that make big mistakes.

These days many school buses have black boxes or GPS tracking systems. We requested that data from local districts and found some buses traveling speeds the districts didn't think possible.

While riding along on a field trip last May parent Jen Patterson was alarmed to see one of the buses repeatedly going through yellow lights at intersections.

“A yellow light's a yellow light, you stop. Err on the side of caution, those aren't your children," Patterson said.

It raises the question: how do school districts keep an eye on school bus driver behavior?

North East ISD says the primary way it cracks down on speeding is by installing computerized governors on all buses. They prevent the driver from going over the Texas speed limit for buses: 60 miles per hour.

“We set that limit to attempt to get drivers to comply with the law," said Jack DeForrest, Executive Director for Transportation with North East ISD.

But do those speed governors always work?

We asked DeForrest to check the North East ISD’s GPS system for any incidents of buses going over 65 miles per hour.

The surprising result: drivers exceeded the speed limit for buses 64 times last school year. The highest speed recorded was 69 miles per hour on Highway 281 North.

DeForrest and his staff investigated to see how it’s possible for buses to reach those speeds when they have speed governors installed on them.

"What happens, when buses go to the dealer for maintenance, often, is that the computer will be re-flashed and our parameters will be erased," DeForrest said.

Now North East ISD has begun a testing program every Monday to make sure speed governors are correctly programmed.

Speed data from San Antonio Independent School District really made us do a double take: More than a thousand speed readings over 60 MPH.

Including 130, 135 and 142 MPH readings. School buses can't even go that fast.

SAISD’s GPS system showed some of those buses were in Mexico, Antarctica and Burkina Faso in Africa.

Leslie price with SAISD says the outrageous speeds and locations are obviously not possible and are likely the result of glitches with their GPS system. SAISD purchased the system for $144,000.

“Why pay for a GPS system if it's not reliable when it comes to speed or location?” asked News 4 Trouble Shooter Jaie Avila.

“Well the errors of location are pretty rare," Price responded.

"Out of 25-million readings last year around 1,000 had something off, so it's a good system, Could it be refined more? Certainly, but it's a good system and important system for us," Price said.

SAISD suspects most of the speeds over 60 are inaccurate because their buses also have speed governors.

But the GPS problem prevents the district from tracking the number of speeding cases. It can only confirm individual complaints about a specific bus, by checking its video, which also displays speed,

“Have you asked the GPS vendor to correct these problems?” Avila asked.

“We asked them how this could be happening and they explained it's a kind of rare skipping error that can happen. So there's not a correction right now," Price told us.

Some districts, like Northside ISD, don't have a tracking system. They just rely on the speed governors.

Comal ISD told us it has the ability to record speed data but hasn't been doing it. They told us they will start tracking it beginning this year.

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