WASHINGTON, D.C. — Eight students were reportedly killed in the act of loading or unloading their school bus during the 2018-2019 school year, according to a survey released by the Kansas State Department of Education at the 51st annual National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS) conference.
Many NASDPTS presenters stated on Monday at the organization’s national conference, that 2018-2019 was a “terrible year” for student fatalities. It was especially tragic for Michael LaRocco, NASDPTS president and state director at the Indiana Department of Education. He recounted the death of four Indiana students within one week last fall.
A pickup truck illegally passed a stopped school bus hit and killed three siblings as they crossed a rural state road en route to their waiting school bus on the morning of Oct. 30. A fourth student crossing with them was also hit and was seriously injured, but he survived.
(Editor’s Note: Days later, another student was killed while riding on his school bus. The bus was reportedly stopped at a railroad crossing when it was rear-ended by an oncoming truck. The incident was not a part of the national survey results.)
The National School Bus Loading and Unloading Survey was launched in 1970 to specifically track student safety at school bus stops. The survey found that seven of the eight fatalities recorded by state and local police last school year were attributed to other vehicles hitting the students while they were crossing the roadway to board their school bus. In all but one instance, the school bus had deployed its federally-mandated stop arm and activated its flashing red lights.
That was also the case for an 8-year-old victim in Missouri. Similarly, a 16-year-old boy was killed in Maryland as he ran across the street to catch his stopped school bus. In that incident, the school bus had activated its flashing red lights, but had not deployed the stop arm.
Elsewhere, a 10-year-old student in Georgia was walking with his younger brother across the street toward the stopped school bus when a motorist drove past and hit the boys. The 10-year-old reportedly died while attempting to protect his brother from the impact.
Another fatality in Mississippi involved a 9-year-old boy, who crossed the highway to his school bus and was struck by an illegally passing motorist.
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Meanwhile, the survey reported that the school bus struck and killed a 6-year-old girl in Wyoming as she ran alongside the vehicle while trying to catch it. That student was at the rear of the bus when she was hit. She died from her injuries a week later.
The study noted that seven fatalities occurred during the trip to school and four happened while the students were waiting at the bus stop. Three of the fatalities took place in the morning when children were running or walking to their bus, while one fatality occurred when a child was loading at school grounds in the afternoon.
Mos fatalities were reported for ages 9 and younger, which aligned with the 49-year summary of ages of students who were hit and killed while in the loading and unloading zone that was reported by the KSDE. In its 49-year summary, KSDE reported that 73 percent (915) of the total 1,252 fatalities during the past 49 years were age 9 or younger.
A noteworthy aspect for this year is that 75 percent of the fatalities took place in October, one fatality was reported in April and another in September. In most cases, the weather conditions were reported to be clear when the fatalities took place, with 100 percent reported in dry weather-related road conditions.
Six fatalities happened in a rural setting, and four took place on a state highway. Three deaths occurred on country roads and one took place on private property.
While the goal of zero student fatalities remains a goal for student transporters and was a continuous talking point on Monday at the NASDPTS annual conference, student loading and unloading deaths continue to occur. In 2014 and 2015, KSDE reported a record low of four student fatalities for both school years. However, in 2016, the number rose to eight; in 2017 there were six fatalities reported; and in 2018, there were eight reported.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include a link to the national survey.