The Drive to Improve School Bus Safety

By Bruce Buchanan

As any school board member can attest, it is difficult to overestimate the importance of transporting students safely. Every single school day, tens of thousands of buses drive millions of miles -- down interstate highways, city streets, and back country roads. Every year, more than 25 million American students ride at least once on a school bus.

Given these demands, bus manufacturers constantly strive to produce safer and more comfortable student transportation. But school boards and district administrators also play key roles in providing safe school buses. Districts across the country are finding ways -- some cutting edge, others tried-and-true—to improve bus safety.

School leaders also must provide the most important element for safety -- a conscientious bus driver. But as is the case with many school-level positions, finding and retaining quality drivers has been a struggle for many districts, leading some to take innovative steps to keep the seats filled.

Buses built for safety

A 2002 study by the National Academies confirmed conventional wisdom: School buses are the safest way to transport children. Researchers examined 800 traffic fatalities where children died going to and from school. Only 20 of those deaths, or 2 percent of the total, were school bus related. The other 98 percent involved passenger vehicles, pedestrians, or bicyclists.

“A disproportionate share of these passenger vehicle–related deaths (approximately 450 of the 800 deaths, or 55 percent) occur when a teenager is driving,” the report noted.

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