Catastrophic school bus fatalities

How safe is a child using school bus transportation? Millions of children across the country ride on school buses, the largest transportation system in the U.S.

Each year, the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services counts how many illegal bus passing incidents occur on a designated day. For 2018, 38 states participated. A total of 83,944 illegal school bus passing incidents took place in a single day. Each bus had stopped entirely, with flashing red lights engaged and the stop arm fully extended.

School bus travel can be dangerous

From projections yielded by the one-day study, more than 15 million illegal school bus passing violations may take place nationally each school year. The danger to students is significant; they are more vulnerable during the few minutes it takes them to board or exit the bus. Life-changing spinal cord trauma or brain injuries may result if they survive a vehicle impact from a reckless passing driver.

Distracted or rushed drivers may not stop for a school bus. In October 2018, an illegal passing event killed three children from the same family and severely injured a fourth child in Indiana. It was early morning and still dark. The driver said she saw flashing lights and a large shape ahead but did not connect the view with a school bus. She was traveling 45 mph when she hit the four children as they crossed the road to the bus.

No matter how carefully a school district or contracted bus company screens drivers, even a good driver can make fatal errors. In May 2018, a bus driver missed his exit and made an illegal turn on a New Jersey interstate. He swung directly in front of a large, heavy dump truck. A violent crash ensued, seriously injuring 43 children and adults. Two fatalities resulted from the accident.

How to prevent catastrophic school bus accidents

Various states are discussing or implementing preventive measures:

  • Equip each school bus with a camera to record illegally passing vehicles
  • Install seatbelts or cushioned school bus compartment seats
  • Eject a paintball onto an illegally passing vehicle for police to identify
  • Raise illegal passing fines to high dollar amounts
  • Carry a volunteer crossing guard who exits with the children and escorts them safely the entire distance across the road with a handheld stop sign

Parents can provide safety training for their children, teaching them to exercise extreme caution when approaching or leaving a bus. It may be a good idea to repeat the training at intervals, particularly with younger children who are more impulsive and less likely to remember safe behavior. If possible, parents should take turns with neighbors and escort children to and from their buses. Wait until the child is safely on the bus or has safely exited.

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