Fatal School Bus Accidents
School bus accidents are relatively rare. In a study conducted by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) over a 10-year period between 2001 and 2010, there were 1,235 fatalities related to school bus crashes out of a total of 363,839 highway fatalities from motor vehicle collisions. This is 0.34% of that total.
Most fatalities from school bus accidents were to occupants of other vehicles who constituted 72% of those killed. About 21% were pedestrians or others using the roadway such as bike riders. Only 7% were school bus drivers and occupants. These figures are consistent with NHTSA studies conducted between 2004 and 2013 where .4% of all fatal highway accidents were school-transportation related
Because school buses are heavy vehicles and its passengers sit well above the roadway, its occupants are far better protected and less vulnerable to injuries from an impact with an ordinary passenger vehicle. Pedestrians, bike riders, and motorists in passenger cars are not so lucky. Regardless, any fatal school bus accident is an avoidable tragedy.
Some fatal crashes occur from bus operator error or poor judgment. These include:
- Impairment from alcohol or drugs
- Distracted driving from use of a cell phone
- Disruptive students causing distraction
- Failure of mechanical system
- Faulty tires leading to blowouts
- Poor road maintenance or design
- Defective or poorly designed equipment
Many accidents caused by the bus driver occur when the student exits the bus. The driver fails to note that the student has reached a place of safety before starting to move the bus and strikes the student who is still in the roadway.
In this same vein, motorists are required to stop behind or before a stopped school bus with flashing lights on undivided roadways or two-lane roads with no divider. There are always drivers who are impatient or who simply fail to stop and hit a student who is crossing the road. In some jurisdictions and under certain circumstances in others, this is considered a felony if a child is killed or seriously injured.
Driving at night or on poorly maintained roads and bridges are other factors in school bus fatalities. Many rural roads and bridges are not inspected or serviced regularly and present hazardous conditions that jeopardize the safety of students.
Fatigued bus drivers who fall asleep or who take drugs during long road trips can cause the vehicle to run off the road and down an embankment. While it may be difficult to find qualified drivers, it is still incumbent on school officials or private bus contractors to find drivers with safe driving records, no medical or drug issues and ensure they are properly trained.
Further, pre-trip bus inspections should be done each morning or before the bus is put into operation to ensure tires have proper tread and air pressure and that brakes and steering are in sound working condition. If any mechanical failure is found, then investigators need to question maintenance practices.