A string of school bus accidents has raised questions about the safety of school children. For years, the yellow school bus has been the icon of safe transportation for children, but with the recent accidents, parents can no longer be so sure.
• On March 4, a school bus driver ran a traffic signal in Harrisonburg, Va. This caused the bus he was driving along with another car to crash into another school bus. The incident resulted in 28 people hurt. The 70-year-old driver has been charged with reckless driving.
• On March 3, 11 students had to be hospitalized, some with neck and back injuries, when their school bus overturned, about 40 miles from Atlanta. The bus was carrying 27 middle and high school students.
• On Feb. 27, a school bus turned too fast and flipped over, outside Washington, D.C. The driver and 5 middle school students had to be hospitalized.
• On Feb. 19, a school bus crashed into a van in Cottonwood, Minn., careened into a pickup truck and then tipped over. The accident resulted in 4 students killed and 14 others injured.
Because of these recent incidents, an old issue has been rekindled: should seat belts be mandatory in school buses?
There is no federal law that makes it mandatory for large school buses to have seat belts. At state level, there are only 6 states that require seat belts on the yellow buses — California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York and Texas.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) statistics say that 25.1 million children ride 474,000 school buses to and from school annually, yet, on average, less than 8 passengers die in bus accidents.
NHTSA data indicate only 8,000 children injured in school bus crashes annually. The American Academy of Pediatrics, however, reports that 17,000 children seek treatment in hospital emergency rooms due to school bus-related accidents.
Although 42 percent of injuries were related to crashes, nearly a quarter happened as children were boarding or leaving school buses. Children were also hurt when they slip and fall, or when bus drivers apply brakes too hard or turn corners too sharply.
Bus manufacturers estimate that seat belts would add about $2,000 to the cost of a new bus. Retro-fitting an existing bus would cost more, perhaps $3,400.
Some parents believe it’s not the school bus, but the school bus driver that they should worry about. There is no federal law requiring background checks for drivers, but a number of states and individual school districts do have the requirement. They also require drivers to undergo extensive training on various aspects of their job, frequent driving record checks, and pass periodic drug testing and medical exams.
The president of the National Coalition of School Bus Safety says concerned parents should get involved at the local level. It is the local school board that has the power.