The case for crossing arms

Jeff Cassell
Posted on January 10, 2013

In the past eight years, 92 children were killed in the danger zone of school buses. This is an average of about 12 per year.

As we analyze these catastrophes, we learn that 25 of these were children who went in front of the bus. There is no doubt in my mind that crossing arms are effective in preventing front-of-the-bus child fatalities.

Why doesn’t every school bus have a crossing arm? A very good question. It is estimated that around 50% of the school buses in the U.S. currently have crossing arms.

A total of 26 states have regulations requiring crossing arms; 24 and the District of Columbia do not. I believe they should.

Crossing arms are inexpensive compared to the rest of the items you can add to a school bus — cost is only around $250. In addition, crossing arms require very little maintenance.

I was the vice president of corporate risk management for Laidlaw for almost 21 years. Over this period, the company grew from a fleet of 15,000 school buses to 38,000 school buses.

In the first 10 years, without crossing arms, we had 15 child fatalities at the front of the bus. In the next 10 years, with crossing arms, we had one child fatality at the front of the bus.

That drop from 15 to one, with a larger fleet, very clearly shows the effectiveness of crossing arms.

The fitting of crossing arms really started to increase in 1997. Before then, only a small number of buses had them. To look at the U.S. danger zone fatalities before and after 1997, see the chart.

  Annual average front-of-bus danger zone fatalities Annual average danger zone fatalities in other positions Total danger zone fatalities
14 years before crossing arms (1983 to 1996) 11.6 17.9 29.5
14 years after crossing arms (1997 to 2010) 3.1 9.5 12.6
Reduction 73% 47% 57%


The data in that chart were taken from the Kansas State Department of Education’s national surveys of school bus danger zone fatalities (see story about the latest survey here).

Many actions have resulted in reducing the overall average fatalities from 29 to 12, but as you can see, by far the greatest reduction is in front of the bus — a 73% reduction compared to 47% in the other positions. I believe the answer is crossing arms, and these data support this belief.

A total of 26 states have already made crossing arms mandatory. Some of the major contractors are convinced that they are necessary and have them fitted on all of their school buses. The data from Laidlaw overwhelmingly prove that they work. The national data prove that they work.

If you do not have crossing arms on any of your buses, fit them as soon as possible.

State directors and state associations of pupil transportation, please do all you can to get these required in your state.

Please note: The School Bus Safety Co. has no financial interest in crossing arms. Our only interest is reducing danger zone fatalities from 12 to zero. Installing crossing arms is a necessary step.   

Jeff Cassell is president of the School Bus Safety Co.

Related Topics: danger zone, fatalities

Comments ( 1 )
  • James Kraemer

     | about 5 years ago

    When it comes to statistics I side with Mark Twain: "There are lies, there are damned lies, and then there's statistics." I Remain not convinced that crossing arms or even the bus stop sign save enough lives. Both these devices may help distract from activities that would save the most lives. Too many kids and too many motorists disobey the safe crossing devices, it is this disobedience that results in deaths - with or without the safety devices. Too many motorists sometimes deliberately ignore the bus stop sign, too many kids sometimes deliberately ignore safe crossing conduct, too bus drivers do not remove disobedient riders from the bus or even writing up these riders. When writing up a child the schools treat school bus stop offenses as a minor issue. The failure to escort schoolchildren across the road adds to the list of deaths. Seems only California accepts the responsibility to make sure their school bus riders follow directions at the bus stops. No other state can claim California's extent of dedication to rider safety, which is rarely recognized for that dedication by the industry or by the press.

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