New Study Analyzes School Bus Fires

Thomas McMahon
Posted on January 26, 2017
A report commissioned by FMCSA sheds light on the frequency and common causes of fires in school buses and motorcoaches. Photo courtesy NYPD
A report commissioned by FMCSA sheds light on the frequency and common causes of fires in school buses and motorcoaches. Photo courtesy NYPD

A new report commissioned by the U.S. government sheds light on the frequency and common causes of fires in school buses and motorcoaches.

The study, titled “Motorcoach and School Bus Fire Safety Analysis,” was conducted by the John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

Researchers compiled data on school bus and motorcoach fire incidents from 2004 to 2013, then analyzed the data with the goal of identifying trends and common factors that characterize fire safety risks in these types of vehicles.

According to the Volpe study, most motorcoach and school bus fires start in the engine area, running gear, or wheel area of the vehicle. For the incidents in which the area of origin was known, 68% of school bus fires originated in one of those areas, and in “a significant number” of those fires, an electrical wire was cited as the first item to have been ignited.

In the incidents that Volpe analyzed, the most frequent cause of ignition was failure of equipment or heat source.

Another noteworthy finding was that, “Unlike motorcoach fires, a significant number of school bus fires were classified as intentional,” the report says.

The researchers found that school bus fires in the U.S. occur slightly more than daily, while motorcoach fires occur slightly less than daily. For both types of vehicles, there was a general downward trend in fire frequency over the 10-year period of the study.

The report also gives an assessment of the results of the fires.

“Deaths and injuries resulting from motorcoach or school bus fires are rare, but can be severe in worst-case scenarios,” the report says. “The vast majority of the reported fires resulted in no direct injuries or fatalities, and the average reported property damage per incident was a fraction of the total cost of the vehicle.”

In the report, Volpe makes recommendations to FMCSA and the industry in several areas: data quality; operational training and outreach; vehicle design and equipment development; and inspection and enforcement standards.

To access the study, go here.

Fredrik Rosen, a marketing manager at RISE Research Institutes of Sweden, provides an overview of the Volpe report and related fire safety topics in an article posted on LinkedIn.

“The Volpe report … emphasizes that the analysis and conclusions in the study continue to highlight a significant opportunity to measure and improve the safety of motorcoach and school bus operations throughout the United States,” Rosen wrote. “It is clear that passenger-carrier fire safety is an important subject that warrants continued attention and increasing cooperation.”

Related Topics: bus fires, FMCSA, motorcoach/charter buses

Thomas McMahon Executive Editor
Comments ( 1 )
  • John Ashmore

     | about 3 years ago

    It's an excellent report for an important subject, which regrettably on rare occasions can cause disasterous incidents, with lives lost. The recommendations in the report are all sound judgements on the information sourced, but are we good enough at forcing through tighter rules, more, and better, inspection systems, or better specified and improved build-quality vehicles? Can we achieve a 100% accurate log of all schoolbus and motor coach fire reports per year, to make our judgements on, instead of drawing information from many sources? I know the report is 171 pages, but I would suggest that anyone responsible for bus/coach passenger safety should read it. They would find the report very interesting and hopefully thought provoking. They could then ask themselves the question - Are we doing our absolute best, and being totally fair to the people who trust us to carry them safely?

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