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September 5, 2007

 

DiNapoli Calls for Improvements to Criminal
Background Checks for School Bus Drivers

New School Bus Drivers Transport Kids for Three Months or Longer
While Their Criminal Background Checks Are Being Conducted

Audit Finds Inadequate Record Keeping by Employers,
Drivers Not Registered with DMV and Curbside Verifications Not Being Done

State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli today called for faster criminal background checks of school bus drivers. DiNapoli’s recommendations, including the use of digital fingerprint technology to process criminal background checks quicker, follow the release of an audit today that examined the bus driver licensing program in New York State.

“Hundreds of thousands of kids are getting on buses and heading back to school this week,” DiNapoli said. “Right now, new school bus drivers can drive those kids to school for 90 days or even longer while their criminal background checks are underway. When it comes to school children’s safety, someone with a criminal background driving a school bus for even 90 minutes is too long, never mind 90 days. Criminals must be kept out of the drivers’ seats of school buses. We have the technology to make this process faster and protect our kids better.”

DiNapoli said the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), which oversees the bus licensing program, should use more efficient methods to process fingerprints for school bus drivers and make other improvements to the program. In its response to the audit, DMV agreed that the use of scanning technology would increase efficiency and is currently looking for ways to implement it.

The audit released today, which covered the period of April 2002 to February 2006, found that DMV was already using more efficient methods, such as fingerprint scanning technology, to perform criminal history searches for drivers transporting hazardous materials. The results from this method of testing are received almost immediately. A similar scanning technology is also being used by the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor. Auditors said DMV should use similar methods for school bus drivers.

New York State law requires all bus drivers to have a commercial license, pass a medical and driving test every two years and maintain a safe driving record both on and off the job. New school bus drivers are also required to be fingerprinted and undergo a criminal history check. The fingerprints are submitted to both the State Division of Criminal Justice Services and to the Federal Bureau of Investigations for a criminal history check.

Individuals who have been convicted of certain serious criminal offences, such as rape and sexual abuse, are not allowed to drive a school bus. However, current law allows school bus drivers to transport children while their backgrounds are being checked, which can take as long as three months. Employers are required to ensure that drivers meet all licensing requirements before they are allowed to drive.

As part of the audit, the records of 13 transportation carriers, 10 of which provided school bus service, were also examined. Auditors found that DMV had developed a system to monitor carrier compliance, but that improvements were needed. Auditors found:

  • Seven of the carriers were not in compliance with critical program requirements. They did not have abstracts of driving records, records of physical examinations or final qualification letters from DMV when criminal background checks were completed.
  • Twenty-two drivers were working for three carriers but were not registered with DMV; and
  • Curbside checks to verify bus driver qualifications by DMV are not being performed even though a law requested by DMV was enacted in 1991 to permit on-the-spot verification of driver qualifications.

Auditors recommended that DMV follow up with the non-compliant carriers to ensure that deficiencies are corrected. Auditors also recommended that DMV perform more unannounced reviews of carriers to ensure compliance, establish uniform policies for evaluating carrier compliance, and develop proactive methods to identify unregistered carriers and bus drivers. Auditors also commended DMV for taking a number of proactive steps to improve the licensing program. Those improvements are included in DMV’s response to the audit.

In 2005, there were more than 63,000 school bus drivers in New York State.

Click here for a copy of the audit.

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