Reporting Karen Anderson
BOSTON (CBS) – Most would assume if a vehicle is marked ‘School Bus,’ it is safe. But the I-Team discovered that’s not always the case, particularly when you are talking about specialty vans that transport daycare children and special needs students to school.
The I-Team went along with Boston Police and inspectors from the Registry of Motor Vehicles on a sting operation targeting what are known as “7D” vans. They pulled over 41 vans and 27 of them failed the inspection.
Violations ranged from missing paperwork to much more serious infractions like one van loaded with toddlers with booster seats that were improperly installed. Another van failed because a smashed bumper prevented the rear door from opening. Boston Police Sgt. Jim Scopa said that was a potentially dangerous situation. “If there was an emergency, we’re not going to get the kids out,” he said. That van and several others were taken out of service on the spot, including one van that was towed away because the driver didn’t have a 7D license and his regular driver’s license was suspended.
The head of the Registry, Rachel Kaprielian, called the findings outrageous and totally unacceptable when we showed her video of the sting. Her inspectors are responsible for cracking down on the owners of unsafe vehicles. “These are the most vulnerable in our population and it’s especially outrageous that the people in these vans, the children in these vans can’t speak for themselves,” she said.
We’re talking about a lot of kids. There are 5,000 7D vans on the roads in Massachusetts. The I_Team combed through inspection reports and since the beginning of the year, more than 400 vans have been checked. Nearly a quarter of them had violations. Fines were written for unlicensed operators, overloaded vehicles and children without seat-belts. One company was cited because inspectors said its vehicles were not only a threat to students, but to the public.
Some problems appeared to be minor, like one driver who was fined for failing to fill out some paperwork. But when the I-Team did some digging, we discovered the company, PRN Transportation, lost its license for a month back in March for driving uninsured vehicles. The owner of the company refused to speak with us on camera. He blamed the suspension on his insurance company.
Sgt. Jim Scopa of Boston Police started these sting operations when he noticed many of the vans carrying kids throughout Boston looked to be in questionable shape. He also noticed some didn’t have the proper 7D sticker on the windshield. “I don’t think people are aware of how unsafe these vans are,” he said.
Boston Police and the Registry say they need parents, teachers and daycare providers to help them keep a close eye on these vans. “This is never, ever supposed to happen and the very safety of children is what we are talking about. When you see something; say something,” Kaprielian said.
To report concerns about 7D vehicles, you can call the RMV’s Vehicle Safety and Compliance Services at 857-368-8130.