On April 7, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released its investigative findings and recommendations with respect to a tragic fatal collision in Rochester, Ind., on the morning of Oct. 30, 2018. In that fatal crash, three young schoolchildren were killed, and another one seriously injured, when a motorist passed a stopped school bus in this rural community.
I applaud the NTSB’s fine work in their thorough and comprehensive investigation. It’s obvious that they leave no stone unturned in their search for causes and solutions in these situations. There are reasons why events occurred as they did, and we always need to strive to ensure that no child is ever put in harm’s way simply because he or she is going to school.
As with most collision investigations, the causes of this tragic event were complex. (Because most crashes are preventable at some level, we refer to these circumstances as collisions and not accidents.) Even more than the complexity, what happened is concerning, because the driver of the vehicle was not considered to be distracted.
I support technological improvements that can enhance the already stellar safety record of the yellow bus. On the other hand, can we ever expect to fully eliminate the human element when it comes to operating a vehicle?
According to the executive summary of the report:
“The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the Rochester, Indiana, crash was the pickup truck driver’s failure to stop for the school bus for unknown reasons, despite its clearly visible warning lights and stop arm, as well as a roadway warning sign indicating an upcoming school bus stop.”
If you’re like me, this sentence causes you to fully consider the state of affairs on our nation’s roadways today. Are people in that much of a hurry that they simply disregard the most basic safety measures? It’s chilling to think that motorists would take a dangerous and calculated risk — one that has fatal consequences — just to save time.
NTSB came up with a total of 21 findings on why and how the crash occurred, including an examination of the route that had children crossing a high speed (55 mph) road. In addition, NTSB supported the idea that new and improved technological features on motor vehicles could have prevented this crash.
While that may be true, it also highlights our increasing reliance on technology to make prudent decisions for us. Don’t get me wrong: I support technological improvements that can enhance the already stellar safety record of the yellow bus. On the other hand, can we ever expect to fully eliminate the human element when operating a vehicle?
In terms of other recommendations, the NTSB advised that school bus operators focus on the impact of routing on their safety record. Routing decisions should not be made in a vacuum, and let’s ensure that the primary focus in setting routes remains safety. Further, we must take strong steps to increase awareness of laws that govern safety around a stopped school bus. Part of this endeavor requires us to double down on our educational efforts, especially targeting younger drivers, so they are fully aware of these important laws.
Finally, we need to take a harder stance on drivers who flout the law, especially those who do so recklessly. An infamous YouTube video shows a motorist driving on the lawn to pass a stopped school bus and vehicle. That incident demonstrates a blatant disregard for safety and human life, and the person responsible should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services cannot conduct its annual stop-arm survey. Last year, the survey found that illegal passing incidents increased 12% over the previous year. Let’s hope the situation isn’t “out of sight, out of mind” when schoolchildren ride the yellow bus again as the new school year starts.