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Back to School and Back on the Bus

BACK TO SCHOOL…AND ON THE SCHOOL BUS

It’s the time of year when backpacks, notebooks, and all sorts of school supplies are bought, when the days start becoming a little bit shorter, and when pools are open only a little bit longer. School is starting soon, and with that means riding the school bus for many children. In fact, approximately 26 million children ride school buses daily in this country. School buses are still the most popular form of transportation to and from school, and the most pressing concern of parents regarding their children’s transportation is: are school buses safe?

THE STATISTICS

According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), between 2001-2010, there were 1,236 fatal school transportation-related crashes, accounting for .34% of the total 363,839 fatal motor vehicle traffic crashes. During this same time period, 1,368 people died in school transportation-related crashes, which is an average of 137 fatalities per year. However, the majority of those—72%—were occupants of the other vehicles involved in the crashes. Occupants of school transportation vehicles constituted only 7% of the fatalities, and the remaining 21% were non-occupants, meaning pedestrians, bicyclists, etc. In the final analysis, then, approximately 4-6 children die per year while being transported on school buses.

Contrast the above numbers with the NHTSA statistics for accidents involving private vehicles transporting children to and from school. Kids traveling to and from school by way of private transportation are seven times more likely to be involved in an accident than if they rode the school bus; approximately 500 children die each year in car accidents during school travel hours. School buses are by far the safer way for children to get to and from school.

CAN SCHOOL BUSES BE SAFER?

The reason school buses are as safe as they are is due to design and size. School buses have a compartmentalized design: padded, high-backed seats which divide the interior of the bus into compartments which reduce the amount of passenger movement during a collision. The large size of a bus also helps mitigate the consequences of a collision by distributing the impact of a collision across a wide area.

Of course, one safety feature that is still not standard in buses is the seat belt. The debate over whether seat belts should be required in school buses has raged for decades. It came into sharp focus once again after the fatal school bus crash in Chattanooga Tennessee in 2015. In that tragic crash, five students were killed when the bus hit a tree and overturned. The driver of the bus, a 24 year old, was charged with vehicular homicide. A nearly identical accident occurred in Anaheim, California in 2014, but no fatalities occurred. The difference? The school bus in the California accident had seat belts.

Currently, only six states require seat belts in school buses: California, New York, Florida, New Jersey, Louisiana, and Texas. The American Academy of Pediatrics has long recommended that seat belts be installed on newly manufactured buses, and the National Safety Council recommends this as well.

The debate seemingly rests on a cost-benefit analysis: fitting school buses with seat belts costs between $7,346-$10,296 per school bus, and the resulting benefit would be to reduce 2-3 deaths per year nationwide. Although even one child’s death is too many, with some 480,000 school buses nationwide, many argue against the multi-billion dollar investment that installation of seat belts in school buses would require. There are also concerns that one driver could not make sure that all students on the bus have their seat belts fastened when they should, and that placing that responsibility on drivers would be too onerous.

CURRENT LEGISLATION

The accident in Chattanooga has resulted in new legislation not only in Tennessee, but in many other states as well. In April of 2017, the State House in Tennessee passed a bill requiring all new school buses to be equipped with seat belts. To date, 28 states have introduced similar legislation this year. While Georgia is not one of those states, it will have a case study of buses with seat belts. Fulton County purchased 90 seat-belt equipped buses this year, and plans to have 400 such buses operational in the next 5 years.

CONTACT YOUR ATTORNEY

If you or a loved one have been injured in a school transportation-related accident, contact Dave Thomas at The Thomas Law Firm for a free evaluation of your legal rights.

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Thomas Law Firm
Located at 945 East Paces Ferry Road, Resurgens Plaza, GA 30326.

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