The Transportation Research Board, part of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, highlighted its school bus safety research to evaluate how it can be adapted during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a blog released on Monday, TRB stated that school buses are traditionally the safest way for students to travel to and from school, noting that passenger vehicles driven by teen drivers, bicycling and walking have a higher estimated injury and fatality rates. TRB’s “The Relative Risks of School Travel: A National Perspective and Guidance for Local Community Risk Assessment” looks at risk measures and offers a checklist of actions to reduce the risk for improved policies in keeping students safe.
TRB has been studying school bus safety over the years. For instance, in 1989 it published “Improving School Bus Safety,” which looked at causes of school bus accidents and evaluated the effectiveness of safety measures for children loading, unloading and riding in school buses, including seatbelts.
Another study, “Special Safety Concerns of the School Bus Industry,” found that inadequate funding, lack of public awareness and law enforcement, and insufficient support from school administrators and parents prevented further safety improvement.
Now, TRB is highlighting its research, as it can be adapted during these times of COVID-19 to help offer solutions student transporters face. Little research, if any, is available on how safe school bus transportation is considering the new coronavirus disease.
The National Academies recently published a report on reopening schools, calling on federal and state governments to provide significant resources to school districts to help them cover the costs of COVID-19 precautions. It stated that without in-person education for children, schools’ risks children falling behind and exacerbating educational inequalities.
It suggested that schools especially consider reopening for kindergarten through fifth grade and for students with special needs, as in-person learning for these students will most benefit families. Other vital services schools provided include childcare, school services, meals, and other family supports.
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TRB stated that school bus schedules will likely shift due to the pandemic, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended seating capacity reductions. Research published in Transportation Research Record explores different methods and aspects of school transportation, including developing new shuttle and bus schedules that match the demand of students, regardless of how many riders on each vehicle.
One study specifically looked at a heuristic algorithm to balance school bus scheduling when multiple schools all start at the same time. One example compared a school district with 54 routes with another school district with 994 routes. The algorithm found solutions in less time than the current system.
Another aspect of the research focuses on making the road safer beyond the school bus. “A Guide for Reducing Collision Involving Young Drivers” notes that an increased number of high school students may be driving themselves to and from school this fall because of school bus route reductions. The study offers strategies like graduated driver’s licenses, later school start times, financial assistance for parents, and improved road design that can help make those learning to drive safer on the road.
As schools head back to school for in-person education, pedestrian and bicyclist traffic will also continue to increase. TRB is looking at design mechanics to protect vulnerable road users.
It also anticipates best practices and creative strategies will continue to shift as more knowledge is shared and the landscape of available options change. TRB will continue to focus research this field.
Editor’s Note: This article has been edited from its original version as it incorrectly stated TRB is conducting a new study to evaluate COVID-19 and its impact on school transportation. Instead, TRB released a blog that discusses its research topics over the years as it can be adapted during times of the new coronavirus.