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Back to school and back on the bus: A look at school bus accidents

SCHOOL BUS TRANSPORTATION-RELATED ACCIDENTS

It is that time of year: back to school. While parents are typically glad that their children are back in the classroom, many worry about how to get them to and from school, and about the safety of the chosen mode of transportation. School buses carry 24 million students an estimated 4 billion miles annually in this country. Given their enormous responsibility and their precious cargo, school buses and their safety records are intensely scrutinized.

According to a National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) study that looked at school transportation-related crashes between 2003-2012, 174 school-age children died in school transportation-related crashes. Of that number, 55 were passengers on the transportation vehicles and 119 were pedestrians. During that same time period, 89 school transportation-related crashes occurred in which at least one passenger of the school transportation vehicles involved died. Over half of these accidents--58%--involved another vehicle.

In addition to fatalities, school bus accidents cause many injuries every year. A study out of the Center for Injury Research and Policy (CIRP) at Columbus Children's Hospital found that there are an estimated three times as many school bus accident-related injuries than previously thought. By looking at the injury-causing school bus crashes rather than fatal accidents as the NHTSA did, CIRP found that Emergency Departments treat approximately 17,000 school bus-related injuries annually.

COMMON CAUSES OF SCHOOL BUS ACCIDENTS

Why are there so many school bus transportation-related accidents? One cause is the lack of experience and training on the part of some bus drivers. Handling a huge bus full of rowdy children is not the same as driving a car or even an SUV. Another common cause of accidents is operating a school bus during poor conditions, either poor visibility due to fog or rain, or poor road conditions due to snow or ice.

Other common causes of school bus transportation accidents relate to the condition of the driver of the bus. For instance, fatigued and tired drivers miss traffic signals, fall asleep at the wheel, and have delayed reaction times. Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol can and does cause school bus accidents. Excessive speed, especially in consideration of the size of a school bus, is also a common factor in accidents. Being able to negotiate curves, turns, and hills safely may require reduced speed in a school bus, rather than the increased speed some bus drivers use to complete their routes on schedule.

WHAT CAN BE DONE

Some recent recommendations to decrease the number of school transportation-related accidents include strict hiring procedures such as thorough background checks, psychological testing, and random drug screening while employed. Better initial training for bus drivers as well as annual refresher courses have also been suggested as ways to improve the safety of school bus transportation.

Improving safety features on school buses is also under consideration. Currently, neither federal law nor the state of Georgia requires seat belts on standard school buses (small buses are required to have lap belts). The government argues that there is no evidence that seat belts would provide any safety benefits not already provided by the "compartmentalization" effect of the bus seats. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics has advocated for three point safety restraints in every school bus since 1996. The real issue may be the cost of retrofitting existing buses with seat belts and producing new buses with the required seat belts. If requiring seat belts in school buses is part of a cost benefit analysis, then greater transparency in the debate is needed.

Parents can play an important role in keeping their children safe on school buses. Parents need to talk with their children about the importance of behaving appropriately on a school bus. School children must understand that any out of control behavior can result in the entire bus getting out of control. Parents should also instruct their children on how to safely board and depart buses, and the importance of behaving at bus stops.

CONTACT YOUR ATTORNEY

If you or your child has been injured in a school bus transportation-related accident, contact Dave Thomas at The Thomas Law Firm for a free consultation regarding your legal rights.

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