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January 01, 2009  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

We've come a long way

by Thomas McMahon, Executive Editor

If you look way back in the record of school bus loading and unloading fatalities, which has been compiled annually for nearly four decades, you may be alarmed.

In 1970-71, the first school year reported, 75 children in the U.S. were killed in the danger zone by their own school bus or a passing vehicle.

While that is the highest national total on record, it’s not too much higher than those of the years that followed:

  • 62 in ’71-72
  • 58 in ’72-73
  • 73 in ’73-74
  • 51 in ’74-75
  • 40 in ’75-76
  • 45 in ’76-77
  • 54 in ’77-78

    The average of the first 10 years on record was about 55 fatalities per year.

    Downward trend
    Compare those lofty figures to the ’07-08 school year’s national total, which was recently released by the Kansas State Department of Education: five fatalities. As we report in News Alert in this issue, this was the lowest total on record.

    In the previous school year, ’06-07, the total was seven. Before that, it was:

  • 13 in ’05-06
  • 20 in ’04-05
  • 9 in ’03-04
  • 12 in ’02-03
  • 13 in ’01-02
  • 9 in ’00-01

    The average of the past 10 years was about 13 fatalities per year.

    Multifaceted approach
    These numbers show how far the pupil transportation community has come over the past decades in addressing the risks of the danger zone — from enhancing driver and student training, to promoting awareness of the issue among the motoring public, to improving and developing new bus safety equipment (mirrors, warning lights, stop arms, crossing arms, etc.).

    The Kansas State Department of Education’s annual report, known as the National School Bus Loading and Unloading Survey, has also been a valuable tool in analyzing these danger zone accidents and identifying patterns. The report provides such details as location of impact on the vehicle, age and gender of the student, light and weather conditions, and type of road.

    The Kansas department’s School Bus Safety Education Unit deserves our continual gratitude for the countless hours it spends tracking down the information and preparing its reports. An archive of the reports is available at

    The historically low fatality totals of recent years are good signs.

    But as I’ve heard many in the industry say, one fatality is still one too many. Complacency is not an option — we must continue to do all we can to bring the total down to zero.

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