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A Fatal 72 Hours

A FATAL 72 HOURS

What the news referred to as a week really came down a heart-breaking three days. In the space of only 72 hours, tragedy struck repeatedly and the nation mourned yet again. Here are the events of October 30 through November 1, 2018:

Tuesday, October 30: Crossing the highway to their bus stop in the morning in rural Indiana, a 9-year-old and her twin 6-year-old brothers were fatally struck by a pickup truck. The 24-year-old driver was arrested on three counts of felony reckless homicide and misdemeanor passing a school bus with the arm extended. She was released on $15,000 bond. A fourth student injured in the incident was airlifted to a hospital in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Wednesday, October 31: A 9-year-old was struck and killed north of Tupelo, Mississippi, as he crossed the road to board a school bus. A 22-year-old man was charged with aggravated assault in the incident.

Thursday, November 1: In central Pennsylvania, a 7-year-old boy was found dead on the side of the road by his home after he was run over by a slow-moving vehicle. The bus driver on route arrived at the bus stop, discovered the situation and contacted 911, then remained at the scene until first responders arrived.

In addition to the five fatalities and one injury described above, in Tampa, Florida, five children and two adults were rushed to a hospital after a car struck pedestrians at a school bus stop on Thursday. One child is in critical condition, but all of the injured are expected to survive. Three of the children are 6 years old, one is 9 and one is 12.

In the space of three days, five children were killed, and six were injured while attempting to go to school.

WHAT THE STATISTICS DO—AND DON'T—SHOW

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration defines a school-transportation-related crash as one that involves, either directly or indirectly, a school bus body vehicle or a non-school bus functioning as a school bus, transporting children to or from school or school-related activities.

The NHTSA data for the period 2006-2015 for school-transportation related crashes shows the following: on average, 30 school-aged children are killed per year in school-transportation related crashes—most of them outside of the bus or in other vehicles. A closer look reveals that a total of 1,313 people were killed during that time frame, and 301 were school-aged children (defined as 18 years old or younger), or 23%. Of those children, 102 were pedestrians, or 34%. Of the pedestrians, 36% were struck by other vehicles (or app. 36 children), while 61% were struck by school buses.

The NHTSA numbers show that fatal school-transportation related accidents involving school-aged pedestrians are relatively rare; fatalities caused by vehicles illegally passing a stop-arm (the “other vehicle” category) are still rarer—app. 36 over a 9 year period, or 4 per year.

But as the three days of October 30, 31 and November 1 illustrate, statistics do not show the whole story. The fatalities in those three days alone exceeded the annual average of school-transportation related deaths of pedestrians struck by other vehicles. More importantly, perhaps, is the fact that numbers alone can never tell the whole story of accidents involving children. When each number represents a child, even one is too many.

ONE STATE’S RESPONSE SHOWS A GOOD WAY FORWARD

In the wake of the tragedy on October 30, state and federal leaders in Indiana are looking for ways to prevent anything like it from happening again. Indiana is already using stop-arm cameras in some districts to deter illegal passage by vehicles. These cameras are mounted on the outside of a school bus and take pictures of drivers that drive past the school bus arm while it is extended. The photos can capture the make of the vehicle and the license plate, and then be sent to law enforcement. State legislators are now proposing that all school buses have the camera technology, and that penalties for illegal passing be changed. Instead of being cited as traffic infractions, passing violations could in the future be treated as misdemeanor offenses.

State legislators and local officials are also re-examining bus routes; the three Indiana children who were killed were struck while crossing a highway to get on their school bus. There is a growing consensus that no child should cross a street—let alone a highway—to get on their school bus, and that bus routes should be changed to ensure that does not happen.

As too often is the case, the conversation necessary to prevent a tragedy only begins after a tragedy. Let’s hope that these recent crashes at least lead to changes in laws and policies the result of which would mean that these innocent children did not die in vain.

CONTACT YOUR ATTORNEY

If you or someone you know has been injured in a school-transportation related crash, contact Dave Thomas at The Thomas Law Firm for a free evaluation of your legal rights.

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