Last April, we shared a blog about the alarming prevalence of school bus accidents in this area as if it were a tragic anomaly. We wrote about stories occurring “in recent months, locally, nationally and even internationally.” These crashes happened at least a year ago, but the past few months have seen their fair share of accidents, too: on February 16 in Salem County, N.J., a bus crashed into two pickup trucks and injured 16 students; in late January, a bus collided with a sedan in Philadelphia; in September, several students were hospitalized when a bus collided with two other vehicles in Camden, N.J.; just days ago, six students were hospitalized in Hamilton Township, N.J., in a single-vehicle accident involving a school bus.
According to the Illinois State School Board of Education (in a publication co-sponsored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration [NHTSA]), “An average of 33 school-age children die in school-bus-related traffic crashes each year.” This is up from about 19 per year in 2009, according to the NHTSA. Furthermore, the University of Rochester Medical Center estimates that about 17,000 students are treated in emergency rooms every year for school-bus-related injuries. While these statistics sounds downright terrifying, we must also bear in mind that (according to the Illinois State Board of Education) 25 million students “ride safely to and from school on 440,000 school buses over 4.3 billion miles each year.” This, in turn, keeps up to 17 million other cars off the road annually.
The NHTSA also agrees with every other major safety group in claiming that school buses are the safest way to get children to and from school: “Students are about 50 times more likely to arrive at school alive if they take the bus than if they drive themselves or ride with friends…and are about 20 times more likely to arrive to school alive if they take the bus than if a parent drives them.” Less than one percent of students riding a school bus will be injured or killed (as of 2008 statistics).
It is also important to note that while the NHTSA recommends seat belt usage, school bus restraint systems are only legally required in six states (New York, New Jersey, Texas, Louisiana, Florida and California).
The children at highest risk of death or injury in a school-bus-related accident are 5 to 7-year-olds, specifically pedestrians, who may be hit either by their own bus or by another vehicle ignoring a school bus’ stop sign (which is illegal). Many safety groups have identified a 10-foot radius around a bus that they call the “Danger Zone” (or, more bluntly, the “Death Zone”) and they instruct parents and bus drivers to tell their children to always remain at least “five giant steps” away from the bus and to never stand behind the vehicle.
The Illinois State Board of Education also suggests that if a child drops something near the bus, they should alert the driver to help them pick it up. They also encourage waiting for the bus driver’s signal to load and loading the bus in single file. When unloading, it is very important to look left, then right, then left again before taking five giant steps away from the vehicle.
More often than not, these tragic accidents occur because of the negligence of the driver and the inadequate protection provided student passengers in school buses. In February of 2012, one child died and 17 children were injured in New Jersey because a dump truck collided with a school bus. In March 2012, 11 children and a bus driver were injured when an SUV collided with a school bus in New Jersey, and the driver of a soft drink truck was killed when he collided with a school bus carrying high school students in western Pennsylvania.