School Bus Safety Again at the Forefront

In the United States each year there are many fatalities and injuries as the result of school bus accidents. This is critical because school buses are the single largest form of transportation in the U.S.  Since 1998, there have been an average of 142 school transportation fatalities per year.

According to the American School Bus Council, over 26 million children in the United States ride in a school bus back and forth to school each day.  Millions of additional kids ride in school buses to camp, church and sporting events. Given these large numbers it would seem obvious that the safety of our young riders should be of the utmost importance.  However, in the past it has taken an accident or series of accidents of some magnitude to create a change to the laws surrounding school buses.

School Bus Safety Again at the ForefrontTake the Carrollton, Kentucky school bus accident in 1988, the worst bus accident in U.S. history.  A drunk driver in a pickup truck was traveling in the wrong direction on the highway and collided head-on with a school bus, then in use as a church bus.  The collision caused the fuel tank of the bus to ignite immediately after impact, blocking the front door exit.  The only other exit on the bus was the rear door. None of the passengers were seriously injured in the accident.  However, due to the smoke and lack of exits, the passengers, mostly children, became crushed trying to exit the bus.  As a result, 27 of the 67 passengers died.

The aftermath of the accident led to massive changes in the standards for school buses.  Kentucky, as well as many other states, changed bus standards to require additional emergency exits, less volatile fuel and an overall better structural integrity for buses. Kentucky now requires that all school buses have nine emergency exits, cages around fuel tanks, high-backed seats, extra seat padding and must be diesel-powered.

Several of the family members of the victims became active in MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving).  The accident riveted the nation’s attention on the problem of drinking and driving like nothing before.

Since then there have been a handful of school bus accidents as a result of drinking and driving, but nothing as catastrophic as the Carrollton accident and certainly nothing that has got the attention of the media, the parents and the school districts, perhaps until recently.

In the last month in the state of New York there have been three school bus drivers charged with impaired driving with child passengers on the bus. In the first incident the bus crashed into a residential home after the driver passed out at the wheel. Five young children aged five to eight, although not injured, were on the bus at the time of the accident. The second driver was apprehended after several calls to 911 about an operator having trouble maintaining control of a bus with shredded tires. That driver’s BAC (blood alcohol concentration) was .23, ten times the legal limit for commercial drivers in New York.  Officers found a half-empty bottle of vodka on the bus. In the third accident the bus driver, with 29 seventh graders on board for a field trip, crashed into a tree. In that accident a 12 year old girl sustained minor injuries.

These incidents have prompted New York State Senator Charles Fuschillo Jr., Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice and Assemblyman David McDonough to call for new legislation which would require all buses to have ignition interlock devices installed in them to prevent drivers from driving drunk.  The legislation would require all buses in New York manufactured after July 1, 2013 to have the devices installed. Local school districts would have the authority to adopt a resolution to the legislation that would require ignition interlocks in buses manufactured before July 1, 2013.

Are you in favor of legislation to require ignition interlock devices in school buses in your state?