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The crash that put the spotlight on drunk driving and school bus safety

Consumer Reports News
May 15, 2013
The crash that put the spotlight on drunk driving and school bus safety
The crash that put the spotlight on drunk driving and school bus safety

Twenty-five years after the worst DUI crash and second deadliest school bus crash in American history occurred, there have been many lessons learned and changes made, but still safety issues remain.

On May 14, 1988, in Carrollton, Kentucky, a school bus carrying 67 children and adults was traveling home after a church outing to an amusement park. At about 11 p.m., the bus was struck head-on by Larry Mahoney driving his pickup truck the wrong way at high speed. His blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was .24 percent. He had been arrested for driving under the influence before.

The passengers survived the initial crash, but 27 people were killed when the bus caught on fire from a ruptured fuel tank, which blocked the front door. The 10-year-old bus had small windows, very flammable seats, and the only way out was the back emergency exit, which unfortunately was obstructed by a large cooler.

After the disaster many changes occurred. It helped to strengthen the national focus on drunk driving and its consequences. One mother, Karolyn Nunnallee, became president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) after her 10-year-old daughter Patty died in that crash. She continues to be an advocate traveling around the country and pushing for stronger legislation.

In addition to increasing the awareness of the dangers of DUI, the crash also helped change the way school buses were made. Modern buses now have flame retardant seats, emergency push out windows, roof hatches, and a left side emergency exit. Diesel fuel is now used instead of gasoline and tanks are secured to prevent a puncture like the one that happened in the Kentucky crash.

Even with these improvements, there are still challenges. Drunk driving continues to affect 30 percent of all traffic fatalities each year and that percentage hasn't changed, even though overall highway deaths have declined. Just 19 states require ignition interlocks for all alcohol-impaired driving offenders, including first offenders. Seven states and Washington, D.C., have no mandatory interlock requirements.

A new movie called "Impact" commemorates the anniversary and documents the tragedy with interviews of families and survivors affected by that horrific crash. Watch the trailer for Impact below.

To learn more about how to keep children safe in and around buses, see our safety tips.

Impact: After The Crash Trailer 2013 from jason epperson on Vimeo.

—Liza Barth

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