The safety of school buses is of growing concern, especially after several high-profile bus crashes have resulted in serious injuries and fatalities in recent months. Although safety standards for school buses haven’t changed in more than 50 years, The NHTSA maintains that buses are the safest mode of transportation for students. Various safety advocates, including the American Academy for Pediatrics and the National Coalition for School Bus Safety, assert that current safety measures are not enough to keep children safe as they travel to and from school.
An average of 131 school bus-related fatalities occur every year. Another 17,000 students suffer serious injuries. Approximately 42% of victims are injured in crashes.
Pedestrians at Considerable Risk
Pedestrians are at significant risk of suffering an injury or fatality in a school bus accident. Approximately 17% of people who are injured in bus-related accidents are pedestrians and another 3% are bicyclists. Large blind spots to the front, rear, and sides of the bus make it difficult for bus drivers and other motorists to see children in these areas. Drivers can easily run over pedestrians and cyclists causing serious crushing injuries in the process. Those at greatest risk are younger children who are smaller and more difficult to see.
Seat Belts and School Buses
About 9% of deaths and 43% of injuries are to passengers and drivers of school buses. Unlike passenger vehicles, most school buses are not required to be equipped with seat belts.
Instead, current buses are designed to incorporate the principle of “compartmentalization.” This concept alleges that the design and spacing of seats limit the distance a child can travel in a crash. Proponents argue that the seats themselves are designed to absorb impact and limit the risk of personal injuries in a frontal or rear-end collision the same way a seat belt would. Without any restraint system in place to protect them, however, passengers can be thrown against the interior of the bus or other students. Legislation currently under consideration in Illinois would require all new buses to come equipped with seat belts.
The Deadliest and Most Dangerous Times
The most dangerous times for school bus accidents are between 7 am to 8 am, and from 3 pm to 4 pm. Nationwide, approximately 38% of school bus-related fatalities occur between 3 pm and 4 pm. These dangerous periods are followed by 6 am to 7 am, and between 5 pm to 6 pm when many students participate in extracurricular activities.