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Latest West Michigan bus crash prompts safety questions

A Friday morning crash involving a Rockford school bus marked the fourth such incident in under a month.

ROCKFORD, Mich. — Another crash involving a school bus sparked safety questions Friday.

Michigan State Police told 13 On Your Side the Rockford bus involved in Friday morning’s crash was still operable and had likely been driven back to the bus garage for repairs.

A photo from Michigan State Police showed the scene of the early morning head-on crash on M-44. The hood of the truck investigators said was at fault was left crumpled.

Credit: MSP

RELATED: CAUGHT ON CAM: Drivers violating school bus safety laws cited during Operation Safe Stop

No students were injured.

It marked the fourth accident involving a school bus in under a month: first, a crash in Caledonia Township that occurred in late September, a rollover in which the driver of the other car involved was cited in Spring Lake and a crash that hospitalized four children in the Grand Haven area.

The crashes have only added to the collective headache brought on by a national driver shortage.

RELATED: No students hurt after truck driver crashes into Rockford School bus

In a joint nationwide survey out last month, a full half of all transportation coordinators described to the National School Transportation Association shortages that had grown bad or desperate.

Some Massachusetts bus riders found new drivers kitted-out in camo after the governor of that state had been forced to call in the National Guard.

With the rush to hire fresh help, some question whether bussing companies may be cutting corners to streamline the process.

Due to an influx in crashes involving school buses and a shortage of bus drivers, we're looking into what it takes to be a bus driver. 13 ON YOUR SIDE's Charlie Tinker digs into the process at 5 p.m.

Posted by 13 On Your Side on Friday, October 22, 2021

It was a question 13 On Your Side asked Dean Transportation’s Kevin Harkness via Zoom Friday.

“Would we love to get people started right away,” Harkness questioned. “Yes… but we’re not hauling truckloads of eggs… we’re transporting students to and from school. We want to get them there safely. So, we won’t cut corners.”

Dean's regional manager for Kent County told this reporter the company was still short dozens of drivers for the moment. The vetting process, however, Harkness related, remained just as stringent. New hires are still put through the paces, must complete a background check and be certified by the state.

Dean and Harkness, meanwhile, were counting on new incentives to bridge the gap.

“We have sign-on bonuses,” Harkness explained. “We’ve had a wage increase recently at many of our locations. We’re doing everything we can feasibly do.”

While the situation was improving as of Friday, Harkness, who now also regularly gets behind the wheel himself, told 13 On Your Side his region still sought 30-40 new drivers to pick up vacant shifts and routes.

To apply, click here.

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