A lack of understanding

Frank Di Giacomo, Publisher
Posted on April 1, 2009

Ninety-one percent.

That’s the landslide of voters in our latest Web Poll who either agreed or strongly agreed that, in general, the public does not understand how safe school bus transportation is.

In recent years, industry organizations such as the American School Bus Council and the School Bus Information Clearinghouse have been working to inform the public — and the media — on the unparalleled safety record of the yellow bus. But it is an unending task, and one that must be taken up by everyone in the industry.

Fortunately, we have the weight of scientific evidence on our side.

Safety study
Researchers at the University of Iowa recently published a study showing just how safe the state’s school buses are compared to other forms of transportation.

On average, the researchers found, there were about 13 injuries and less than one fatality per 100 million school bus miles traveled. Compared to overall vehicle crash data, fatalities in school bus crashes were found to be more than three times less likely, and injuries during school bus crashes were more than five times less likely.

The researchers looked at four consecutive years in a database of all reported crashes in Iowa. They then used school bus mileage data from the Iowa Department of Education to calculate the crash, injury and fatality rates.

Corinne Peek-Asa, director of the University of Iowa Injury Prevention and Research Center and co-author of the paper, called school buses “a very safe form of transportation” and noted that in school bus crashes, the drivers of other vehicles are more often at fault and are more often injured.

“This indicates the need for safe driving education for parents and people driving around school buses, which may be beneficial to the safety of all children traveling to and from school,” Peek-Asa said.

Compelling figures
For a national perspective on school bus safety, a key report is The Relative Risks of School Travel, which the Transportation Research Board (TRB) published in 2002.

The TRB found that approximately 800 school-age children are killed each year in motor vehicle crashes during normal school travel hours. That’s about 14 percent of the 5,600 child deaths per year on U.S. roads, and about 2 percent of the nation’s yearly total of 40,000 motor vehicle deaths.

Of these 800 deaths, only 20 are school bus-related: five school bus passengers and 15 pedestrians. The other 98 percent of school-age deaths occur in passenger vehicles or to pedestrians, bicyclists or motorcyclists.

Perhaps the most troubling statistic is that 450 of these 800 deaths — that’s 55 percent — occur with a teenager at the wheel.

The TRB confirmed what our Web Poll voters suspected: “Because parents and their school-age children have a limited understanding of the risks associated with each mode, it is unlikely that these risks greatly influence their school travel choices.”

All of us throughout the school bus community — at the national, state and local levels — must continue to reverse this lack of understanding.

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