Though not a new phenomenon, school bus accidents have been increasingly prevalent in the news in recent months, locally, nationally, and even internationally. We have heard of injuries to children, bus drivers, other motorists and even several deaths. But what are the facts about school bus crashes in the United States?
According to Dr. Meryl Ain’s writing in the Huffington Post, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration does not require large buses (vehicles weighing more than five tons) to be equipped with safety belts, even though 80 percent of buses in the United States fall into this category. Only six states have laws requiring seatbelts on all buses (New York, New Jersey, Texas, Louisiana, Florida and California) but legal loopholes do not require students to use the belts in all cases.
There are close to half a million school buses operating throughout the country. Together, those buses transport just under 24 million children on a daily basis. Including camps, extended day programs, sports and other extracurricular activities, the school bus system is the largest public transportation system in the country. This fact alone means that well over 10 million cars (estimates range up to 17 million) are kept off the road every weekday morning and afternoon due to these buses. Statistically speaking, school buses are very safe, much safer than normal automobiles. Out of these tens of millions of students, according to the University of Rochester Medical Center, about 17,000 students are treated in emergency rooms every year for school bus-related injuries. The article continues:
“About 24 percent of injuries involve getting on or off the school bus, according to the CIPP [Center for Innovation in Pediatric Practice] report. Although an average of seven school-age passengers are killed in school bus crashes each year, 19 are killed getting on and off the bus, according to School Transportation News.
Most of those killed are 5 to 7 years old. They are hit in the “danger zone” around the bus. This is the area 10 feet in front of the bus, 10 feet behind it and 10 feet to either side of it. The children are struck either by the school bus itself or by a passing vehicle, even though it is illegal for a vehicle to pass a bus with its red light flashing.”
There are times, however, when negligence may be the contributing factor in school bus accidents which we have seen more recently. In February of 2012, one child died and 17 children were injured in New Jersey because a dump truck collided with a school bus. In March 2012, 11 children and a bus driver were injured when an SUV collided with a school bus in New Jersey, and the driver of a soft drink truck was killed when he collided with a school bus carrying high school students in western Pennsylvania.
The National Crime Prevention Council reminds us that buses are large vehicles, and for that reason, bus drivers cannot always see small children if they are too close to the vehicle. They advise parents to tell their kids to arrive at their bus stop a few minutes early so an approaching driver can clearly see them. They should always wait on the sidewalk or the grass before loading onto the bus, never the shoulder of the road. They should also never try to retrieve any item dropped under the bus or walk behind the bus for any reason. The University of Rochester suggests that children stay at least 10 feet, or, more memorably, at least five giant steps away from the bus at all times. As in a lot of cases, a little bit of observation and vigilance can go a long way toward keeping children safe.