May 17, 2018. This day forever changed lives in Paramus, New Jersey. A fifth-grade class boarded a school-bus for an anticipated field trip 40 miles away. But the bus, carrying 43 students, teachers and parents never made it.
Instead, the bus driver cut across three lanes of traffic to make an illegal U-turn. He then collided with a dump truck killing 10-year-old student, Miranda Vargas, and one faculty member. Dozens more children were injured.
Nearly two years after the deadly accident, seventy-nine-year-old Hudy Muldrow was sentenced to 10 years in prison in February 2020. Months earlier, he pleaded guilty to reckless vehicular homicide, assault by auto and child endangerment.
Unsettling Driver Background
At the time of the crash, the driver had 14 license suspensions. While many were for administrative reasons and for expired medical certificates that were later updated, he had also received eight speeding tickets over the years and was cited for careless driving. The Paramus School District claimed to have no knowledge of the driver’s record, nor was this driver on anybody’s radar. The Paramus School District still has 6 active lawsuits for negligence, medical bills and emotional distress. Lawyers for the victims say the final tally for damages could likely cost the school district tens of millions of dollars.
"We would never want anyone to go through this torture. We don't want this to ever happen again," said Madison Vargas of her twin sister’s death. "We have to make sure that whoever is behind the wheel is someone we can trust.
This tragedy has prompted family members of the victims and NJ lawmakers to push for bus safety bills. New Jersey Congressman Josh Gottheimer introduced legislation in 2018 called the “Miranda Law” (in honor of 10-year old Miranda Vargas) which would require automatic notifications of driver violations to school districts and school bus companies within 24 hours. If this law is enacted, school officials would all be notified in real-time of any changes on a school bus driver’s license. The legislation would also require buses to have three-point seat belts.
"Right now, you have, literally, you have a background check on Monday, pass it, on a Tuesday get a DUI, and the only requirement is self-reporting. The school district would never have to know that," Gottheimer said. "As a parent, I would want to know."
Research has shown that 50 to 80 percent of commercial driver’s self-report traffic violations. This represents a serious safety risk because across all vehicle types, suspended drivers have a crash rate 14 times higher than other drivers.
In 2019, NJ Governor Phil Murphy signed into law four new safety bills inspired by the crash. One requires school bus drivers to take safety classes twice a year. The others call for complying with federal safety regulations, requiring school bus drivers over 70 to show proof of physical fitness, and making the state Department of Education notify local authorities when a driver's license is revoked or suspended.
Minimize Your Risk
It should not take a tragic event, or any lives lost to realize that the old way of checking Motor Vehicle Records is not enough. Allowing risky drivers to slip through the cracks is dangerous and opens the door to potential negligence claims for hiring or retaining employees who are “unfit” to be behind the wheel.
Continuous driver license monitoring solutions were created to help manage driver risk and keep roads safe. They also reduce the uncertainty of waiting for drivers to self-report license violations. Putting safeguards in place to protect your organization and community shouldn’t have to be required by law to be the right thing to do.