Federal Government Reports Suspiciously Good School Bus Accident Statistics
Kids across the nation are back in school now after summer break, and while many parents are experiencing a sense of relief (how do you keep those kids entertained for three months?) others, especially parents of first-time students, are feeling pangs of worry. What grades will your kids make? Will they make friends? Will they be heartbroken when they’re not accepted to the varsity team? But one thing parents generally do not worry about is the school bus ride. After all, the kids will be sitting with their friends, and it’s not often that you hear about school bus crashes.
Well, not to strike even more anxiety into your heart, but school bus crashes are more common than many people realize. In fact, in 2011, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that there had been 1,245 school bus related accidents since 2000, comprising 0.34 percent of all motor vehicle accidents. These accidents resulted in 1,386 deaths—or 139 per year. Eight percent of the fatalities were bus riders, 20 percent were pedestrians or bicyclists, and 72 percent were drivers or occupants of other cars. Despite the high number of fatalities, many of whom were very young children, the NHTSA rather dubiously boasts of these as good statistics. Their website states, “School buses are the safest mode of transportation for getting children back and forth to school…” and specifically tells parents that their children are safer riding the bus than they are riding with their own parents.
A Closer Look at the Facts
Despite the NHTSA’s confidence, the National Coalition for School Bus Safety reports that these statistics are grossly exaggerated, and that there are, in fact, more school bus fatalities and serious injuries than the government would have us believe. A spokesman for the coalition reports that 20 years ago, his home state of New Jersey reported that less than 20 students had been injured in school bus crashes. However, he personally knew of a single accident that had injured 45 students. When he asked the State Director about the discrepancy, the director told him that bus accidents related to field trips and accidents involving parochial school buses were not accounted for in the statistics.
Back to Basics: Buckle Up!
The Coalition believes that the first thing that must be done to prevent school bus fatalities is to require that seat belts be installed in all school buses. After all, if they are required in cars, and state laws require riders to buckle up, it hardly makes sense that students on their way to state schools would not require the same safety precautions. Not only are they not obliged, they are not even able to do so, since few school buses even have safety restraints.
Though the legislative push has merit, my experience as a personal injury attorney and a specialist in auto accidents leads me to believe that more is needed to make significant progress. Many of the people injured in school bus accidents are pedestrians, so measures that do not protect pedestrians fall short. Perhaps more rigorous training for bus drivers should be required. And since rowdy kids can distract even the most conscientious drivers, school districts should require monitors on buses to manage groups of bus riders under a certain age. Though some might decry these suggestions as overly rigorous, we cannot do too much to protect innocent passengers and pedestrians, especially when they are young and vulnerable. To take the initiative to press for change, write to your state lawmakers and ask them to pass legislation that will protect your kids, your grandkids, and all the children in your state.
About the Author:
Andrew Winston is a partner at the personal injury law firm of Lawlor Winston White & Murphy. He has been recognized for excellence in the representation of injured clients by admission to the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, is AV Rated by the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, and was recently voted by his peers as a Florida “SuperLawyer”—an honor reserved for the top 5% of lawyers in the state—and to Florida Trend’s “Legal Elite.”