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School Bus Accident Statistics and Current Safety Issues

Last updated Tuesday, July 25th, 2023

For most people with kids, it’s our worst nightmare for our child to be killed in a school bus accident. Thankfully, compared to most collisions, such accidents are relatively rare, and when an accident does happen, children usually don’t suffer serious injuries. Although the statistics show low numbers of school bus-related fatalities, the number of kids killed is still unacceptable.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, from 2004 to 2013, 327 children died in school transportation-related accidents. Of this number:

  • 54 were on a bus or other school transport
  • 147 were in other vehicles
  • 116 were pedestrians
  • 9 were cycling
  • 1 was unclassified

School Bus Accidents Involving Pedestrians

Over one-third of the children who died in an accident with a school bus were pedestrians. Predictably, most of these fatal accidents occurred during the mornings from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. and in the afternoons from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. The best way to prevent these tragedies is to talk to your kids about safety issues around big commercial vehicles. Unlike fatal bus accidents where a school bus is involved in a collision with another vehicle, these accidents seem to be mostly preventable.

The reality is that your child is safer on the school bus than in the family car. But all large vehicles have blind spots. Make sure your kids know this and know that they should assume that any time they are on the street around a big truck, whether it’s the school bus or the trash truck or the UPS delivery van, these drivers have blind spots, and the safest thing to do is to get out of their way as soon as possible and stay clear of them. Do not hang out around the sides or the back of the vehicle talking with friends, and don’t walk or run in front of it. Make sure your kids know that the driver might not be able to see them once they disembark from the safety of the bus.

School Bus Driver Accidents Are Rare

In January 2015, a school bus driver passed out behind the wheel, ran the bus off the road, and crashed into some trees in Anaheim Hills, California. There were no fatalities, but according to the ABC 7 news report, every child on the bus was injured, four seriously. The driver hid his medical condition from the school district, a condition that causes dizziness, seizures, and blackouts. The driver faced one felony count each of child abuse and endangerment, perjury, and causing great bodily injury following the school bus accident.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulates drivers of big commercial vehicles weighing over 10,000 pounds. Drivers are supposed to be doctor certified as medically fit to drive a big commercial vehicle such as a bus. How this driver escaped scrutiny and was given his license is anybody’s guess, but he apparently lied to get his commercial driver’s license, hence the perjury charge.

The news report stated the driver faced a maximum prison sentence of 19 years if convicted.

Would Fatal School Bus Accidents Be Reduced If Seat Belts Were Required?

On the surface, requiring our kids to be belted in on school buses sounds great. Realistically, seat belts on school buses could have the opposite effect, causing more fatalities for school children each year according to a December 2015 article in U.S. News and World Report. According to the article, requiring school buses to have seat belts would result in less room for kids on the bus with some kids being forced to resort to alternate transportation such as walking, riding a bike, or riding in a private vehicle to school, none of which is as safe as riding the school bus.

However, a look at the worst school bus accidents in our nation’s history reveals an even darker perspective on requiring our children to be belted in. The worst school bus accident in U.S. history was the Prestonsburg, Kentucky, disaster of 1958. The bus hit the back of a wrecker truck and then crashed down an embankment into the storm-swollen Big Sandy River. Of the 48 children aboard, 26 died and 22 escaped.

In another tragedy in Alton Texas, a school bus was struck by a Dr. Pepper truck and knocked into a gravel pit filled with water where it sank rapidly. Twenty-one students died and many more were injured in this crash.

In another horrific fatal bus accident in Carrollton, Kentucky, 27 died, mostly children from the Radcliff, Kentucky Assembly of God church youth group after the bus was struck by a drunk driver and caught on fire. Those who survived this accident and the other accidents above were primarily the ones who managed to escape the vehicle. Escaping a bus that has caught on fire or been submerged under water could prove impossible if occupants are belted in. By not requiring our kids to wear seat belts while riding on the school bus, we are giving them a better chance to escape if there is a bad accident like the above tragedies.

What Can We Do to Prevent Fatal School Bus Accidents?

Thankfully, school buses are safer than other vehicles. The best thing we can do to keep our kids safe when riding the bus back and forth to school is to make sure they are aware of the blind spots around the bus when they disembark, instead of behaving like the street around the school bus is an extension of the school playground. Children naturally trust most school workers, including the bus driver, and this is good.

But kids need to be aware that staying out of the way is also their responsibility after they get off the bus because the driver, who would never purposely hit them with the bus, may not be able to see them. According to school bus accident statistics, if we educate our kids about the danger of blind spots around big vehicles, we could prevent many tragic accidents around school buses and probably around other big trucks in our neighborhoods.

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