By Stephanie Shaw, NTSB Safety Advocate
Like many parents, I send my daughter to school on a school bus because I know that it’s the safest way for her to get to and from school. In fact, students are 70 times more likely to get to school safely when taking the school bus than when traveling by car, even if the bus doesn’t have seat belts.
Although my daughter is safe on her school bus, I know that she could be safer. Like many school buses across the country, my daughter’s bus is not equipped with seat belts; however, lap/shoulder belts, especially when properly worn, provide the highest level of protection for children in the event of a crash.
At the NTSB, we believe that every child needs that added protection, and we recommended that states require that all new school buses be equipped with lap/shoulder belts for all passenger seating positions.
Check out our 2016 school bus safety video featuring the NTSB’s Dr. Kris Poland, who explains compartmentalization, talks about a few of our crash investigations, and discusses the added safety benefit of lap/shoulder belts in school buses.
Lap/shoulder belts are not the only safety feature that we recommend for improving school bus safety. Unfortunately, our investigations have shown that children need to be better protected outside the school bus, too. Every state has a law making it illegal to pass a school bus that’s stopped to load or unload passengers with its red lights flashing and stop arm extended. Far too many drivers simply choose to ignore the law for their own convenience and put children at risk.
Annually, the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services conducts a survey on illegal school bus passings. Data from the most recent survey showed that in a single day, 95,319 drivers passed school buses illegally during the 2018–2019 school year. In 2018, we saw the deadly consequences of such a choice when a pickup truck driver failed to stop for a stopped school bus that had its red warning lights and stop arm activated. The pickup truck struck children crossing the road to board the stopped bus. Our complete highway investigation report, including our recommendations for stop-arm cameras, is available on the investigations page of our website.
To better protect children in and around school buses, we have also recommended that new school buses be equipped with:
- collision avoidance systems and automatic emergency braking on newly manufactured school buses as standard equipment, and
- connected vehicle technology for all highway vehicles, and
- pedestrian safety systems, including pedestrian collision avoidance systems.
To learn more about our school bus crash investigations and safety recommendations, visit our school bus safety web page.
Before setting out for the bus stop, parents should refresh their knowledge of safe school bus practices, and then talk about safety with their children. Children should be reminded to sit facing forward in their seat when the vehicle is in motion, to buckle up if the bus is equipped with seat belts, and to be aware of traffic on the roads when it’s time to step on or off the bus. Drivers must be alert, slow down, obey the school bus laws in their state, and watch for children walking in the street near bus stops and where there are no sidewalks. And, if anyone has concerns about a bus driver’s behavior, they should report it to the school principal or bus company.
Over the next few weeks, nearly 50 million children will head back to school; more than 20 million of them will ride on a school bus. Although there’s much to be done to make school bus transportation even safer, it’s still the safest way for children to get to and from school.