Last week's (2010) school bus accident involving 80-year-old bus driver Otis Hames raised some concerns on our website. According to New Hanover County Schools, Hames is not the only bus driver in his 80s. Now some lawmakers say maybe the laws should be changed.
By law, there's no age limit to drive a school bus, but after Wilmington Police charged Hames with failure to yield the right of way, some are questioning the safety of students.
Many of the comments on our website defend Hames, Others argue that an 80-year-old has no business driving a school bus.
Drivers are required to pass several tests to renew their certification, including a physical. Hames passed his back in 2005. AARP, though, says certain human functions do have a tendency to decline as people age, including vision, hearing, reaction time and cognitive and motor abilities.
So should the law change? State Rep. Carolyn Justice thinks a change may be needed.
"I, as a legislator, was surprised to find that folks 80 years old are driving school buses," Justice, a Hampstead Republican, said. "Maybe we'll discuss having them re-examined every year. Maybe we'll just have to decide an age cut-off."
For now the state will have to rely on current standards for testing drivers that were recently changed. A representative for Transportation Services at the Department of Public Instruction in Raleigh said the state recently changed bus driver certification to a three-year renewal cycle instead of the old five-year cycle.
As for the drivers in New Hanover County, out of the 306 drivers employed, 41 are between the ages of 60 to 69 years old, 15 are between the ages of 70 and 79 and there are two drivers in their 80s, including Hames and a woman a few months older than him. The other 248 drivers are under the age of 60.