COLUMBUS, Ohio — A recent report from the Ohio State Highway Patrol shows that in 2010, there were 1,579 crashes in the state that directly involved a school bus.
State pupil transportation director Pete Japikse told SBF in an interview that his agency does not evaluate the patrol's reported data for accuracy, but does monitor it on a regular basis. What is clear is that the annual school bus crash rate has been steadily decreasing over the past 11 years — from more than 2,100 accidents in 2000 to 1,579 in 2010. That's a drop of about 25 percent.
Japikse said that the decline can be attributed to better training and management practices. For example, recertification was added to Ohio's school bus driver training program. So in addition to training new drivers, veteran drivers come back through the state program and are re-evaluated every six years.
Japikse noted that his office is also now encouraging school districts to do their own re-evaluations of their drivers every year.
Another factor Japikse cited is that "districts are doing a better job at monitoring driving skills and training drivers in areas where there is more risk. And we use accident data to analyze the risks."
For the proportion of the accidents in which the school bus driver is determined to be at fault (41 percent of the school bus accidents last year, Japikse said), the most common types — be they backing, moving mistakes, etc. — are identified.
For school bus driver training this summer, the state focused on depth perception and vehicle perimeter sense.
"How do you teach that? You use mirror grids and you help drivers with backing exercises and turning exercises," Japikse said.
The state director noted that very few school bus accidents are mechanical in fault, but he acknowledges the State Highway Patrol for its vigilance in bus inspections.
Ohio has about 15,000 school buses on routes. Including field trips, the state's school buses travel an estimated 200 million miles per year.
Using the state patrol's figure of 1,579 school bus crashes in 2010, the rate comes out to just 0.7895 crashes per 100,000 miles. And the majority of the crashes are minor.
"I think we're doing pretty well," Japikse said. "The bus drivers, the owners and the trainers are all focused on reducing accidents to a lower level, but we’re also realistic enough to realize that there will be some. That’s why we also train for responding to them."