School Bus Accidents
Accidents caused by or which involve a school bus are relatively rare, but when they do happen, it is usually newsworthy. Small children are generally on these buses, so their well-being is the biggest concern.
Most injuries and fatalities in school bus accidents are not to the bus occupants but to pedestrians, bicyclists, and occupants of other vehicles. A school bus can weigh almost as much as a truck, so it will have the physical advantage over passenger vehicles.
In a study of school-bus related fatal accidents between 2001 and 2010, about 71 percent of school bus fatalities occurred to those occupying other vehicles. About 21 percent were to pedestrians and bicyclists, and just 7 percent were school bus occupants.
Accidents on a school bus are caused by negligent driving in most cases either by the bus driver or another motorist. School bus drivers do receive training, but in many cases, the training is not comprehensive and fails to address safety issues and hazards that bus drivers may encounter.
Factors in a school bus accident may include:
- Poor maintenance
- Mechanical problems
- Inexperienced drivers
- Distracted driving
- Impatient motorists who fail to stop for bus discharging students
- Intoxicated driving
- Driver fatigue
- Starting the bus before the student reaches a point of safety
Mechanical problems usually refer to worn-out brakes or problems with the steering mechanism. A driver, school or company supplying the bus has a duty to inspect them each day before it begins to pick up and discharge passengers and have a systematic maintenance program. Worn tire treads and brakes or steering issues should be promptly addressed, and maintenance records kept. Also, private contractors generally have their own safety and training manuals and programs. Failing to adhere to the company’s own standards and guidelines can expose the company to liability in case of an accident.
Another issue on school buses is maintaining order. A driver needs to deal with unruly students who are disruptive while maintaining control of the bus and keeping students safe. Being distracted by a fight on the bus can lead to an accident, so drivers need to be trained to handle such situations.
Liability for an accident caused by a school bus driver may rest on the driver, school and bus company. Bus operations are subject to state and federal regulations regarding hiring, testing for alcohol and controlled substances, inspections and driving conduct. Though we trust our schools to hire trained drivers and to keep our children safe, drivers are often hired despite criminal and poor driving records. To save money, companies fail to change worn tires or to replace worn-out brakes, endangering children on board and anyone else on the roadways.
If a school district is a responsible party, you will have to follow that state’s tort claims act since it is a public entity. There are shorter timelines for presenting a written claim that must contain certain information and is a prerequisite if you wish to file your injury claim in court.