Bus Driver Unions Want More Background Checks, Random Drug Testing

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — A public hearing held Thursday took aim at what has become a growing problem of school bus drivers operating their vehicles while intoxicated.

Last October, a school bus carrying five young children careened into a house.

READ MORE: Police: 3-Year-Old Child Struck By Vehicle, Killed On Long Island

As CBS 2’s Jennifer McLogan reported, Christian Escudero, who’s just 8 years old, managed to lift the emergency evacuation lever as the driver passed out in a drunken stupor.

Christian and his mother were among those at a public hearing examining how to better protect society from drunk school bus drivers.

“The driver was sideways off the seat and people were crying and scared. And I opened the door,” Escudero told McLogan.

The driver in that case pleaded guilty this week and is now serving one year in jail.

In recent months, four Long Island drivers were arrested for operating their school buses while intoxicated.

“My son could have been killed. He’s my only child and I almost lost him,” Melissa Escudero told McLogan.

Melissa Escudero and others are demanding mandatory ingnition interlock devices on every school bus.

“It’s absolutely urgent to pass right now,” Al Belbol of the Merrick PTA told McLogan. “We have the technology.”

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Using sophisticated technology, each school bus driver would be required to provide a breath sample before every run.

“If it’s over the limit, horns would blow, lights would flash,” ignition interlock expert Craig Lotz said.

“We’re hopeful that before we end session this June that we’ll take up a comprehensive package to deal with this issue,” State Sen. Charles Fuschillo told McLogan.

But bus drivers’ unions call the mandates discriminatory.

“Having my drivers have to go through a process that’s only reserved for people that have been convicted of a crime,” Paul Mori of the New York School Bus Contractors Association told McLogan.

The ignition interlock devices are required for drivers convicted of DWI on Long Island.

Instead, unions favor expanding background checks and increasing random drug and alcohol tests.

Under current state law, those who drive buses with 14 or fewer children are excluded from random drug and alcohol testing.

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