After analyzing three years’ worth of bus–related traffic records in New York state, the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle had some good news for the school bus industry: The majority of school bus accidents there are caused by other motorists.
While the researchers tallied more than 3,900 bus-related accidents between July 2010 and May 2013 statewide, the term “accidents” encompasses passengers bruised by hard braking and minor fender-benders as well as more serious crashes. There were 2,783 actual crashes in that time frame.
Of that total, 1,540 (or 55 percent) were considered “preventable.” Of these accidents, 119 (or 4 percent) involved school bus drivers who were either “distracted” or displayed “poor judgment.”
STN analysis of the 369 accidents occurring from January to May of this year found that the most common type of school-bus crash involved other vehicles rear-ending a stopped bus or attempting to pass a bus halted at a stop sign, signal or bus stop.
This comes as no surprise to Peter Mannella, executive director of the New York Association for Pupil Transportation, who expressed that the organization is extremely proud of the safety record of its members. He credited the state’s structured driver training, examination and professional development programs, as well as its vehicle inspection and preventive maintenance systems.
“We have frequently pointed out that we do all that is humanly possible to ensure safe vehicles, prepared and able drivers, safe routes and timely training. We have repeated that statement frequently, and the data bears our points out dramatically,” Mannella said.
He stressed that it is the responsibility of the motoring public to display caution when driving near a school bus and to stop when that school bus has an extended stop arm and flashing red lights.
“While there is always more we can do to prepare our drivers, the fact is that day in and day out, they are doing their jobs well and safely,” he continued. “Our school buses are the safest way to transport our children to school — we know that — and we need parents and motorists to do their part as well.”
NYAPT reports that motorists pass stopped school buses at least 64,000 times every day in New York, and it is currently backing a bill (S. 5028) in the state Legislature that would allow stop-arm cameras on buses to record illegal passing and also increase penalties for violators.
In a few of the reported accidents, school bus drivers admitted fault because their students had distracted them. In one accident, a school bus driver transporting five students recounted the events of Dec. 12, 2011 that led to him driving into a ditch.
“Due to distraction by students, I went into the ditch, traveled approximately 40 yards in the ditch and then came back out into the roadway,” he said in the report.
Some bus drivers and passengers were not as fortunate, however, as 376 students were injured in bus crashes and one was killed in that time period. Twenty-six injuries were caused by a student’s own bus, including minor head injuries from sudden stops, a pedestrian struck by his bus and two students hurt when their backpacks were caught in the bus doors as the vehicle started to pull away.
While bus trips comprise about a quarter of all the miles students travel in vehicles nationwide, they only account for roughly 4 percent of all injuries, according to the American School Bus Council.