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National School Bus Safety Week: How safe are school buses?

Consumer Reports News: October 19, 2009 11:24 AM

Every day, more than 23 million children across the country get into those big yellow buses and head to school. October 19th to 23rd marks National School Bus Safety Week and many parents worry about sending off their most precious cargo on the school bus each morning, but riding the bus to school is considered the safest forms of transportation. It is approximately seven times safer than passenger vehicles.

Each year 42,000 people are killed in motor vehicle crashes, however, on average just six school-age passengers die while riding a school bus. According to statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there were 153 people killed in school bus related crashes in 2008. Sixty-eight percent were occupants of other vehicles involved in the crash; nine percent were school bus passengers, and 13 percent pedestrians. Unfortunately, there are deaths related to school bus accidents, however the percentage is relatively small compared to the total number of fatalities on the roads each year. Of course, no matter the percentages, the goal is to eliminate avoidable deaths.

Some suggest that the use of seat belts could help, but NHTSA has not found any data to suggest that children are safer belted than not when riding in school buses. A bus’s size helps in that it is more like a heavy truck and results in lower forces to school bus passengers than those experienced by passengers in cars, light trucks or vans. By design, school buses are also “compartmentalized” to provide crash protection through their higher energy-absorbing seat backs and closely spaced seating rows. Small school buses, however, are required to have lap and/or shoulder belts, since their size and weight are more similar to passenger vehicles. In addition, the increase in manufacturing and service cost, as well as potentially reduced seating capacity when fitted with seat belts, could result in fewer children able to ride the bus, which means more will be traveling in less safe passenger vehicles. However, others have suggested this sends a contradictory message to children that they must buckle up in a car but it’s OK not to in a school bus. Thus, they lose the daily habit of buckling a seat belt every time they travel in a vehicle.

With or without seat belts, school buses are a safe form of transportation and can be even safer with extra vigilance, our next blog will discuss safety tips for children and parents in and around the bus.

For more on child safety, see our kids and car safety guide.

Liza Barth 

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