In the last couple weeks, two school bus drivers were suspected of being under the influence while driving a bus full of students. Both drivers were arrested for DUI, and both drivers now face serious consequences. These incidents raise the question of what happens if a school bus driver is convicted of DUI/OVI in Ohio.
The first incident, reported by the Associated Press, involves a school bus driver in Utah. The suspect was driving elementary school students for a field trip. Two people, one motorist and one parent on the bus, called 911 to report the bus was swerving erratically and nearly hit a car on the highway. An officer stopped the bus and conducted a DUI investigation. The bus driver was arrested for DUI, and prescription muscle relaxers were found in the bus driver’s purse. The students were driven to the field trip by another, presumably sober, bus driver.
The second incident, reported by the Boston Globe, involves a school bus driver in Massachusetts. The suspect was driving a high school cross country team from a meet to their high school. Witnesses reported the bus driver smelled of alcohol, ran a red light, took the wrong exit, failed to use turn signals, hit rumble strips, and drove at fluctuating speeds. Police stopped the bus in the school parking lot and administered field sobriety tests to the driver. The bus driver was arrested for DUI and was held without bail. The bus driver reportedly had two prior DUI convictions.
In Ohio, school bus drivers face serious consequences for DUI/OVI convictions. Schools are required by Ohio Administrative Code section 3301-83-06 to complete semi-annual record checks for school bus drivers. If a driver was convicted of DUI/OVI in the last six years, that driver is disqualified from operating a school bus. In addition, schools are required by Ohio Administrative Code section 3301-83-23 to terminate the employment of any school bus driver convicted of DUI/OVI. In a nutshell, if a school bus driver is convicted of DUI/OVI in Ohio, that driver’s employment will be quickly terminated, and that driver will not be eligible to drive a school bus for six years. These regulations apply if the DUI/OVI occurred while driving a school bus, and they also apply if the DUI/OVI occurred in a personal vehicle.
I represented a school bus driver charged with DUI/OVI in a personal vehicle. My client was stopped because an officer believed my client was doing donuts in a school parking lot. The officer observed signs consistent with impairment and arrested my client. The officer performed a Drug Recognition Evaluation and concluded my client was under the influence of a narcotic analgesic. The officer charged my client with OVI and Reckless Operation.
My client was in a difficult position because the employment termination and six-year disqualification for DUI/OVI convictions also apply to Reckless Operation convictions. In court, the judge concluded the initial stop of my client was not justified because the officer did not actually see my client doing donuts; he only saw headlight movements consistent with donuts. As a result, all evidence obtained after the initial stop was suppressed (excluded), and both charges were dismissed.
My client was fortunate there was no conviction. The consequences for school bus drivers convicted of DUI/OVI in Ohio are severe. The severity of the consequences is probably appropriate, as school bus drivers are carrying some very precious cargo.