Top School Bus Safety Improvements Your District Needs Now

Safety, Tips & how-to

This week, October 21-25, is National School Bus Safety Week, and the theme this year is “Stand Back From the Yellow and Black.” Big yellow school buses have often been called “the safest way to travel,” but still, an average of 15-18 students die each year on or near school buses. In addition, some 17,000 injuries occur. Some people won’t be satisfied until the number is 0. To make that happen, new safety measures are being taken at school districts throughout the country.

School Districts Improve Safety Through Technology and Training

Over half of school-aged kids ride yellow school buses to and from school. More than 480,000 buses carry 25-26 million students each year. Riding the bus is 40 times safer than riding in a car, and children who take the bus are safer than children who walk or ride a bike to school. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration submitted a report to Congress in 2002 stating that the fatality rate on school buses is 0.2 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles, compared to 1.5 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles for regular passenger cars. Still, many say that one death is one too many.

Typical safety measures include training and certifying drivers, having monitors on buses, and teaching children how to behave on and off the bus. Approximately five children per year are struck and killed by other motorists once they’re off the bus.

School districts are often strapped for cash, but many have made it a priority to increase bus safety. New measures being tried out in various parts of the country include:

  • Using a GPS tracking system linked to a bar-code reader. Students swipe cards when they get on and off the bus so the school district can track time and place.
  • Making an app available for parents and other family members to track a child’s school bus in real time on its way to or from school.
  • Installing an alarm that goes off when the bus is shut off. The driver can only turn off the alarm by walking to the back of the bus. In the process, they can see whether any children have fallen asleep or been left behind by accident.
  • Increasing the training children get on bus safety.

But Where Are the Seatbelts?

Missing from many big school buses are seatbelts, which have been mandatory in passenger cars since 1968. Only a few states, including New York, New Jersey, and Florida, require seatbelts on school buses. School districts in other states are free to decide whether or not they want belts. Some organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, are pushing for seatbelts to be mandatory on buses across the country.

Besides the cost being prohibitively expensive for many school districts – it would cost between $8,000 and $15,000 to outfit a single bus with seatbelts – authorities maintain that because of something called “compartmentalization,” adding seatbelts would not make buses significantly safer. Because of the way buses are designed, with high-backed, heavily padded seats close together, passengers would remain relatively unharmed during a collision.

Small yellow school buses are fitted with lap belts. As of now, there are no plans to make seatbelts on large yellow buses standard.

Read more on Avvo’s Education Law topic page.