How Safe are our Kids GETTING ON and OFF the School Bus? NMA E-Newsletter #397


This month, our children and grandchildren will be going back to school after a long summer of fun and vacation.  Many of those kids will be riding a school bus.

Did you know that riding a school bus is the safest way for a child to go to school? In fact, riding a school bus is 8x safer than riding in cars to school.  In the U.S. alone, 450,000 public school buses travel 4.3 billion miles per year to transport 23.5 million children each school day.

School transportation fatalities are rare.  According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics between the years 2004-2014, only 1344 fatalities occurred related to school transportation. This number accounted for just 0.40 percent of the total number of annual traffic fatalities during this ten-year period.

NMA Foundation Board Executive Director James Walker analyzed the NHTSA statistics for school transportation related crashes and concluded that the biggest safety concern for children getting on and off the bus is the bus driver.  Every child fatality of course is tragic but when you look at the numbers, there is a totally different picture that emerges.

Years for each 10 years School Transportation Related Crashes Under Age 19 Child Pedestrian Fatalities caused by passing vehicles Under Age 19 Child Pedestrian Fatalities caused by school buses Total Under Age 19 Child Pedestrian Fatalities by passing vehicles and school buses
1999-2008 36 Fatalities (24%) 113 Fatalities (76%) 149 Fatalities
2000-2009 35 Fatalities (27%)   95 Fatalities (73%) 130 Fatalities
2001-2010 32 Fatalities (26%)   91 Fatalities (74%) 123 Fatalities
2002-2011 35 Fatalities (28%)   88 Fatalities (72%) 123 Fatalities
2003-2012 36 Fatalities (30%)   83 Fatalities (70%) 119 Fatalities
2004-2013 38 Fatalities (33%)   78 Fatalities (67%) 116 Fatalities
2005-2014 40 Fatalities (36%)   71 Fatalities (64%) 111 Fatalities

An average of 36 children per EACH 10 year – 29 percent of School Transportation (bus) related crashes – were victims of passing vehicles over the 1999 to 2014 period while 88, or 71 percent were killed by accidents involving the school bus. The ten-year average per state works out to 0.72 children killed by passing cars and 1.77 by school buses.

If school bus cameras prevented 50 percent of the under age 19 child pedestrian fatalities caused by passing vehicles, it would take 27.78 years to prevent one fatality in an average state (per state).

The school bus stop laws in the United States and Canada are usually based on 11-705 of the 1992 Uniform Vehicle Code (UVC).  The code states the following:

UVC 11-705(a) The driver of a vehicle meeting or overtaking from either direction any school bus that meets the color and identification requirements of 12-222(a)* , (b) and (c) of this code stopped on the highway shall stop before reaching such school bus when there is in operation on said school bus the flashing red lights specified in 12-222(a) and said driver shall not proceed until such school bus resumes motion or the flashing red lights are no longer actuated.

* A school bus is painted National School Bus Glossy Yellow in the United States and similarly in Canada. Signs in the front and rear top center read SCHOOL BUS (AUTOBUS SCOLAIRE or ECOLIERS in French Canada). Its front and rear ends usually has alternately flashing lights with 2 red lamps at top corners and 2 yellow (amber) lamps near red lamps at the same level but closer to the vertical central line of the bus. It often has an octagon red stop arm on the left.

There are some variations state-to-state with regards to stopping distance from the school bus and some state laws indicate what kind of road (divided highway or not) that a motorist would be required to stop. Penalties vary widely and range from driver’s license suspensions and fines to jail time.

What is needed to help keep our kids safe?

Education of course. Comprehensive drivers’ education for all students and continuing education for more mature drivers would be a start. Thorough bus driver training by school districts will go a long way in helping keep kids safe. Thorough safety training for students, kindergarten through high school on how to cross streets, safety inside and outside the school bus also has to be part of the safety equation.

What we don’t need – school bus cameras that cost between $3000 to $8000 per bus and pushing penalties on drivers while doing nothing to improve safety for all school children.

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