A common refrain in the pupil transportation industry is that students are safer inside the school bus than outside. Federal statistics back up that assertion, but they also reveal an unfavorable aspect that is not often emphasized: More students outside the school bus are killed by the bus itself than by other vehicles.
That unsettling discovery can be found in the August 2017 edition of School-Transportation-Related Crashes, issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The report, which covers the 10-year period from 2006 to 2015, offers a number of insights that help put school bus fatality data in perspective.
One key takeaway is that an average of 30 school-age children are killed each year in school-transportation-related crashes. NHTSA defines a school-transportation- related crash as one that involves, 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.
The agency’s August 2017 report shows that school-transportation-related fatalities account for just a fraction of a percent of overall vehicle fatalities. From 2006 to 2015, there were 324,710 fatal motor vehicle traffic crashes. Of those, 1,172 (0.4%) were classified as being related to school transportation.
Even within the school-transportation-related fatalities, less than a quarter of those killed are children. In the 2006 to 2015 time span, NHTSA’s data show that 1,313 people of all ages were killed in crashes related to school transportation, with 301 of them (23%) being school-age children (age 18 or younger).
The report also confirms that most of these child fatalities take place outside of the school bus or in other vehicles. Of the 301 school-age children killed in school-transportation-related crashes from 2006 to 2015:
• 54 (18%) were occupants of school transportation vehicles.
• 137 (46%) were occupants of other vehicles.
• 102 (34%) were pedestrians.
• Eight (3%) were cyclists.
Drilling deeper into NHTSA’s data for 2006 to 2015, we find the disquieting ratios of school-age pedestrians killed in school-transportation-related crashes:
• 3% were struck by vehicles functioning as school buses.
• 36% were struck by other vehicles involved in the crashes.
• 61% were struck by school buses.
When it comes to bolstering student safety, illegal passing of school buses by other vehicles has long been a focal point for the pupil transportation industry. Steps have been taken to mitigate stop-arm running with steeper fines, public awareness campaigns, and additional equipment on the exterior of school buses — stop-arm cameras, extra warning lights, extended stop arms, etc.
Those efforts should certainly continue, but the statistics in the NHTSA report suggest that there’s more room for improvement in the area of struck-by-bus fatalities.
While it’s exceedingly difficult to change the behavior of other motorists on the road, pupil transportation leaders can have a greater influence on the actions of school bus drivers and students through ongoing training. That includes proper loading and unloading procedures, correct use and adjustment of mirrors, counting of students on and off the bus, and student awareness of the danger zone around the bus.
By our own research, the school bus industry transports about 25 million students daily in the U.S. The vast majority of those trips are completed safely, but NHTSA’s latest report is a reminder that there’s no room for complacency — on or off the bus.