UPDATE: A year and a half after the Woodmore school bus crash, the National Transportation Safety Board is calling on all states to have seat belts on school buses.

The federal agency said seat belts would have made a difference in the 2016 crash.

The NTSB has recommended seat belts in the past, but this time they're sending a strong message to the country.

Board members hope by taking a hard stance, they can impact school systems at the local level.

"It's time. It's time to jump off the fence," Robert Sumwalt, the NTSB's chairman said.

The National Transportation Safety Board wants all new school buses to have seat belts.

In a special investigation report hearing, they talked about what caused the Woodmore bus crash and another 2016 crash in Baltimore. They also discussed how to improve safety.

"The safety system in our nation has paid attention to this tragic loss of these six children. It has identified what went wrong and has identified what we need to change things," Jim Hall, the NTSB's former chairman said.

The board said there were three factors that likely caused the Woodmore crash:

  • Driver, Johnthony Walker, speeding and using his cellphone
  • Durham School Services not providing adequate oversight as well as allowing an inexperienced driver that had a history of issues to be on the road
  • Hamilton County Schools failing to followup to make sure Durham addressed those problems

Former NTSB chairman Jim Hall calls it a significant hearing.

"This is the first time the board has finally clearly said lap and shoulder belts need to be on these school buses and have sent a recommendation to all the states and territories that that must be done," Hall said.

The board is also recommending more accountability and oversight for school districts and school bus contractors.

School buses are also recommended to have upgraded technology that includes automatic emergency braking.

Those are all factors board members said would have made a difference in the crashes.

"If you contract out, if you own a school bus company, or if you contract out with organizations to provide oversight, you will be responsible and that's the message this agency needs to send," Sumwalt said.

Durham School Services released a statement following the NTSB discussion.

Carina Noble, Senior Vice President, Communications said:

"We are very sorry that this tragedy happened on one of our buses. Our thoughts remain with the families and friends of those who lost their lives or were injured.

Immediately following the accident, we sought to learn any and all lessons from the investigation. We have put in place a nationwide system to record and track complaints. This BusReport system was commended as ‘very effective’ in the hearing today, and we believe it will continue to help address the local issues identified. Also shared today, we have accelerated the roll-out of industry-leading smart-safety camera technology called DriveCam.

We will continue to review the NTSB report and will work with school boards and relevant authorities on the technologies identified as an opportunity to enhance industry-wide safety performance."

The Hamilton County Department of Education also released a statement:

“The Woodmore tragedy is a painful event that we live with each day as we think of the lives lost and impacted from that day forward.  The school district has worked diligently in the past ten months to open more effective lines of communication between system administration and Durham.  Much has changed in the district's oversight of Durham, and even greater improvements are on the way for next school year. The new district budget includes a position to oversee accountability in our interaction and oversight of Durham, student transportation and bus drivers transporting our children. 

The district will review the NTSB report and will work with the Hamilton County Board of Education, Durham and public safety officials to review equipment, procedures, and performance to provide safe transportation for children.”


UPDATE: In a bold move, the NTSB recommended seat belts on all school buses after the deadly Woodmore crash.  

"This will be a historic day," said NTSB chairman  Robert L. Sumwalt III in a board meeting Tuesday.

The board said the lack of belts on the bus was a contributing factor in the deadly 2016 crash.

The National Transportation Safety Board has also adopted a three-part probable cause in the Woodmore Elementary bus crash that killed six children in 2016.

According to the NTSB, the three-prong cause is:

  1. School bus driver's excessive speed and cell phone use, which led to the loss of vehicle control.
  2. Durham School Services failed to provide adequate bus driver oversight allowing an inexperienced bus driver to operate a commercial vehicle with escalating risky driving behavior that could lead to the unsafe operation of the school bus.
  3. The Hamilton County Department of Education's lack of follow up to ensure that Durham School Services had addressed a known issue.

The probable cause was originally amended from the first item as a single probable cause. This happened when NTSB chairman Robert L. Sumwalt III recommended the three-pronged cause. Then the board voted to approve the measure.

Durham School Services released a statement following the NTSB discussion.

Carina Noble, Senior Vice President, Communications said:

"We are very sorry that this tragedy happened on one of our buses. Our thoughts remain with the families and friends of those who lost their lives or were injured.

Immediately following the accident, we sought to learn any and all lessons from the investigation. We have put in place a nationwide system to record and track complaints. This BusReport system was commended as ‘very effective’ in the hearing today, and we believe it will continue to help address the local issues identified. Also shared today, we have accelerated the roll-out of industry-leading smart-safety camera technology called DriveCam.

We will continue to review the NTSB report and will work with school boards and relevant authorities on the technologies identified as an opportunity to enhance industry-wide safety performance."

Channel 3 has been told Hamilton County Schools is expected to release a statement.

The Woodmore crash findings were released Tuesday along with findings from a Baltimore bus crash that was driven by a man who had a seizure while driving that bus.


PREVIOUS STORY: An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board reveals seat belts would have helped some of the children in the Woodmore bus crash.

The information came during a hearing Tuesday in Washington, D.C. in which the board reported findings from the Chattanooga crash and another school bus crash in Baltimore, Maryland, three weeks before the Woodmore crash.

The investigation revealed Woodmore bus driver Johnthony Walker was trained on how to maintain speed and operate Bus 366 but received little training on how to maintain order on the bus.

Complaints were filed by students, parents and faculty against Walker up to three months before the crash in November 2016.

NTSB investigators testified Durham School Services and the Hamilton County Department of Education did nothing regarding Walker's behavior.

They also highlighted complaints filed by Walker himself, which revealed Walker was told he was filing "too many complaints," leaving the 24-year-old to "take matters into his own hands" according to the NTSB.

"One of the issues he would have is students wouldn't sit down while the bus was in motion. So his response would be to either swerve or slam on the brakes causing the students to fall in a way to urge them to be seated," NTSB Investigator Kenny Bragg testified during Tuesday's hearing.

Investigators could not confirm that Walker was using a hands-free device via Bluetooth while driving the bus the day of the crash, which goes against Walker's own testimony from his trial.

Walker was convicted and sentenced for causing the crash that killed six children and injured several others.

The school bus crash in Baltimore killed six people and is believed to be caused by the driver experiencing seizures which NTSB investigator's say he never revealed his medical condition to his employer and obtained multiple driver's licenses illegally.