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March 05, 2013  |   Comments (1)   |   Post a comment

NAPT News & Views — Safety performance: The silence is deafening

The public expectation of outstanding performance is now carved in stone based on decades of our industry doing just that. So, trying to get reporters interested in still another story about our safety record is challenging to say the least.

by Mike Martin and Barry McCahill


We’ve all heard that old line that goes like this: “OK, but what have you done for me lately?”

It comes to mind when talking school bus safety. Why? Because the public expectation of outstanding performance is now carved in stone based on decades of our industry doing just that. So, trying to get reporters interested in still another story about our safety record is challenging to say the least.

But it can be done with some effort, especially in communities where school bus budget, walking distances and similar topics are already on the public agenda. When that’s the case, sharing the safety facts with local reporters is important, and many of them will appreciate your outreach.

Those of us who monitor school bus industry media stories know there’s no shortage of yellow bus news, but rare are stories about the good safety and reliability record.

In the media culture of the day, good news usually travels slowly, but bad news races to the front of the line.

For example, here are just a few headlines from school bus stories around the country on one day in September last year: “Pickup crashes into bus; third school bus crash in Mitchel area this school year,” “Hundreds of Buses Fail Safety Inspections in 2 States,” “Lack of mechanics mean long waits for DeKalb school buses,” and “Idaho kindergartner forgotten on school bus, spent half-hour alone in district.”

These are typical of the messages the public gets every day. Many have a negative cast and certainly do nothing to encourage strong public support during tough economic times when budgets are on the chopping block. Worse, there is little that can be done locally to alter this drumbeat.

The bad news will not be put aside for a good news story. But once in a while, it would be nice to see some good news at least intermingled in an otherwise not-so-good story to provide balance.

Even the feds usually are not able to penetrate the media bubble that thrives on the sensational over the more mundane.

To wit, there was a worthy story that could have been highlighted in September last year that — to our knowledge — got no major media coverage at the very time most children were heading back to school: the release of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) “Traffic Safety Facts: School Transportation-Related Crashes,” a bottom-line summary of crashes over the last decade.

Isn’t this information that parents, city councils, mayors and others who decide education budgets need to hear? We sure think so.

NHTSA looked at its data from 2001 to 2010 and provided a high-megapixel image of the safety performance of our industry.

The agency included in its analysis crashes involving, “either directly or indirectly, a school bus body vehicle, or a non-school bus functioning as a school bus, transporting children to or from school or school-related activities.”

Just to be clear, this definition includes people killed riding in other vehicles that were involved in a school bus-related crash. And, that’s the largest share of the fatalities: 72%. School bus occupants accounted for just 7% of the fatalities, and pedestrians, bicyclists, etc. accounted for 21%.

Here are some key factoids:
• From 2001 to 2010, there was a total of 363,839 fatal motor vehicle crashes of all kinds. Of those, 1,236 (0.34%) were considered school-transportation related — 1,368 deaths.
• An average of 18 school-age children are killed each year in school transportation-related crashes — six occupants of school transportation vehicles and 12 pedestrians.
• On average, nine school-age pedestrians are killed by school transportation vehicles (school buses and non-school bus vehicles used as school buses) each year, and three are killed by other vehicles involved in school bus-related crashes.
• From 2001 to 2010, 123 school-age pedestrians (younger than 19) died in school transportation-related crashes. Forty-nine (40%) were between ages 5 and 7. Sixty-nine percent were struck by school buses, 5% by vehicles functioning as school buses and 26% by other vehicles involved in the crashes.
• Also during that time period, three drivers and one passenger died in school bus body vehicles providing transportation for purposes other than school or school-related activities (churches, civic organizations, etc.).

The NHTSA data are broken down by categories like year, time of day and crash type. School bus professionals should have the entire fact sheet available to offer reporters and elected officials. It’s available here.

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Read more about: NAPT, NHTSA, school bus crash

I contend that we in the school transportation industry are victims of our own success - we strive for one goal: perfection, because anything less may mean an injury or worse for the children we are entrusted with every school day.

Gary Bubar    |    Mar 13, 2013 07:24 AM

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