FOX23 INVESTIGATION: Are driving test changes causing bus driver shortage?

FOX23 INVESTIGATION: Are driving test changes causing bus driver shortage?

TULSA, Okla. — Quick Facts:

  • Some local school leaders say changes to the bus driver's test made it too hard
  • They think that's causing the bus driver shortage across Green Country
  • FOX23's Janna Clark found out why driver's think the test is so hard and how it impacts your kids

Some Green Country superintendents said changes to the bus driver's test made the test way too hard.

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They thought that could be contributing to the bus driver shortage across Green Country.

Not enough drivers could mean districts may have to cut bus routes.

Thane Bowles trained for two months to drive a bus for Jenks Public Schools.

“It's for the kids. It’s important to get the kids to school on time and get them home safe,” Bowles said.

Transportation director Jeremy Hairrell said Thane's one of his best drivers.

“I would have no problem putting my son on his bus at all and letting him drive,” Hairrell said.

But Bowles can’t drive a school bus, because he can’t pass the test. He told FOX23’s Janna Clark he’s failed it four times.

“I'll say this. It's one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, and I’ve had a lot of obstacles in my life,” he said.

Jenks Driving trainer Erich Anderson said since the test changed in July 2015, drivers he thinks should pass don't pass the test.

“You feel they're ready to drive kids but still can't?” Clark asked.

“Correct,” Anderson said.

“Because they can’t pass the test?” Clark asked.

“Because they can’t pass the test,” he agreed.

Anderson said he sends drivers to the test knowing they can pass it, but some can’t.

Bus drivers take the test at a Department of Public Safety facility, and complaints have been rolling into the state Department of Public Safety office.

FOX23 called three higher ups with DPS to ask about the changes. They said they're just implementing changes that came down from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

“This is a very strict program. They think we're making all these rules, and we're not,” the official said over the phone.

“Do you think the test is too hard?” Clark asked.

“No, ma'am. If your kid is on the bus, wouldn't you want them to be as safe as possible?” the official said.

They said the Federal government just wants to make sure drivers are qualified. They don't think the test is the problem. They said the issue isn’t the test but the training.

At Jenks, they disagree, and before the test changed, Jenks had a great pass rate of 85 percent.

Since the test changed, it's gone down to about 30 percent.

“Last week, we sent three down to test, and they failed,” Hairrell said.

He admitted that it can be a struggle to have enough drivers for the routes. The director has to drive a route.

“We're at that point we have nobody left,” Hairrell said.

FOX23 called Bixby, Owasso, Sand Springs and Sapulpa districts, and they agreed portions of the test are too tough.

They said safety aspects are important, but they said some maneuvers drivers have to pass are ridiculous. That includes backing a bus around a corner, called a 90-degree dock, something a semi-truck driver does but never a bus driver.

Anderson showed FOX23 another part of the test, which asks drivers to name dozens of parts under the bus and what could go wrong.

He said that’s not something drivers need to know, but mechanics should know those things.

He said it takes up to 40 minutes to walk around the bus to do this.

“Stupid. It's stupid. It is one more rule in Oklahoma that should be not there,” said Cindi Hemm, superintendent in the Avant district.

Hemm has worked in education for three decades. She said she found a retired semi-truck driver, and after studying and training to drive a bus, he didn't pass either.

“Yes, you need to be capable. But you don't need to be make it so hard that nobody can pass it, and that's what's happened,” she said.

Hemm said her district is so desperate for drivers that she studied for two months and took the test herself. She passed, but she said it was harder than the superintendent’s test.

Bowles is still trying after failing four times.

“I've faced a lot of challenges in my life. Nine years ago, I battled cancer and beat that, and I’m not going to let this beat me. I want to get my driver’s license to drive this bus,” he said.