On Tuesday, November 1st, a school bus in Baltimore, Maryland was en route to pick up its first charge of classroom-bound children when it collided with a car, ricocheted off a structural element on the right side of the road and then veered into oncoming traffic. The yellow school bus then struck a Maryland Transit Administration bus traveling in the opposite direction, opening up the driver’s side of the bus from the bumper all the way back. Tragically, six people lost their lives—including both drivers of the respective busses and several passengers on the MTA bus. Again, the school bus was empty at the time and no children were harmed by the incident.
That very afternoon, an accident involving a school bus loaded with children occurred in Orange County Florida. Orlando police investigating the incident believe that a Toyota failed to yield to the school bus and crashed into the bus—luckily, no one was hurt. The accident reports involving school buses continued throughout the week though, as more mishaps made the news. On Wednesday in Houston, Texas, a school bus that was taking 51 students on a field trip left the road and veered into a ditch after trying to avoid an oncoming car that had crossed the middle line. Seven students were taken to a nearby hospital as a precaution, but all were released. And then, on Thursday, November 3rd, a school bus in Chesapeake, Virginia tangled with a truck while transporting students to school, fortunately resulting only in bent sheet metal.
It’s unavoidable that such incidents will occur, but it is worth noting that these events took place only a matter of days after many of our communities observed National School Bus Safety Week (designated each year as the third week of October)—an event designed to heighten the awareness of school bus safety among students, parents and communities. So the question here is whether or not those sharing the roads with our young pupils have been getting the message?
Data on traffic incidents involving school transportation varies from state to state, but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) shows that safety seems to be status quo on a national level. For instance, tracking a 9-year period from 2002 to 2011, the NHTSA found that there were 1,221 fatal vehicle crashes that involved school transportation. Another study reviewing the period from 2005 to 2014 shows 1,191 fatal crashes involving school buses—suggesting that the numbers vary only by a small degree with school transportation-related accidents accounting for a mere .35 to .4 percent of all fatal motor vehicle traffic crashes each year. The NHTSA also points out that school buses are the safest way for children to travel to and from school, as such vehicles are designed to be better than passenger vehicles in preventing injuries in the event of a collision. The NHTSA has also changed its tune in November of 2015 by finally endorsing the use of 3-point seatbelts on buses after years of claiming the piece of safety equipment unnecessary.
With safety education and equipment working hard to protect our children, it truly comes down to a question of awareness and accountability—are drivers giving the school buses with which we share our roads the level of consideration they deserve? The American School Bus Council estimates that some 480,000 buses carry 25 million children to school each day, and it’s important that we watch out for each and every one of them as we drive throughout our communities.
Both an Emory School of Law graduate and MBA graduate of Goizueta Business School at Emory, Chris Nace focuses his practice on areas of medical malpractice, drug and product liability, motor vehicle accidents, wrongful death, employment discrimination and other negligence and personal injury matters.