Bus Safety 2017-02-16T13:40:08+00:00

Bus Safety / School Bus Safety

Bus Safety / School Bus Safety

Horrific California Tour Bus Crash Sparks Concern over Bus Safety Policies

Following a rash of serious bus accidents, including the most recent tragedy in California, regulators are cracking down.  Concern over the quality of motor carrier and bus safety looms as a key issue in the wake of the horrific Southern California tour bus crash that left eight people dead and more than 30 injured.

On Sunday, February 3, 2013, a tour bus carrying 38 people careened down Highway 38 near Yucaipa and crashed into two vehicles before rolling over. Seven passengers in the bus were killed in the bus crash and over 30 others were injured, several critically. A man in a pickup truck hit head-on by the bus died from his injuries a few days later.

Bus Safety / School Bus Safety

According to investigators, the driver of the bus reported brake problems, telling police after the crash that he believed they failed. Crash survivors have also reported that they heard a grinding noise and smelled burnt brakes. Federal records show that the 1996 European-made bus had a lengthy history of maintenance violations and brake-related issues. According to FMCSA records, a string of inspections last spring revealed nearly 20 violations, some of which included brake-related issues. The VanHool bus was ordered off the road twice last year after inspections found serious mechanical problems.

Survivors have also told reporters that there were no seatbelts on the bus, which is not uncommon in such tour buses.  Many of the bus’ occupants were ejected from the vehicle during the violent accident, making the lack of seatbelts a likely contributor to the many deaths. As the investigation into the fatal bus crash continues, authorities will also be looking into road conditions and possible driver error or fatigue as possible contributors.

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has since shut down the owner of the bus, National City-based Scapadas Magicas. The DOT ordered the bus company to stop operating motorcoaches in the U.S. just five days after the grisly crash, stating that their vehicles posed an “imminent hazard to public safety.”

This latest tragedy is just one in a long list of bus crashes that have motivated safety advocates to call for the implementation of legislation aimed at enhancing bus crash avoidance capabilities, occupant protection and operational standards.

On July 6, 2012, President Obama signed into law the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), which includes provisions giving the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) authority to issue long-delayed lifesaving motorcoach occupant protection standards. Bus safety improvements have been recommended by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) since the 1960’s and are on the board’s “Most Wanted List.”

Incorporated into MAP-21 is the Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act of 2012, which will require charter and tour buses to implement stricter safety standards for passenger protection, structural integrity, collision avoidance and driver training/certification, including:

  • Seat Belts: According to federal data, rollover bus crashes can lead to a significant amount of deaths, with ejection of passengers causing the highest percentage of all passenger fatalities when compared to other bus crash events. In 2010, the NHTSA proposed to amend the Federal motor vehicle safety standard (FMVSS) on occupant crash protection by requiring lap/shoulder seat belts for each passenger seating position in new buses. According to the NHTSA the implementation of this rule “could reduce the risk of fatal injuries in rollover crashes by 77 percent, primarily by preventing occupant ejection in a crash.” Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood will have until the end of 2013 to prescribe regulations requiring the installation of seat belts on motor coaches.
  • Vehicle Integrity: Under Map-21 (sec. 32703) the Secretary of Transportation has until 2014 to prescribe regulations and set timeframes for roof strength and crush resistance. The NTSB has long warned about the importance of roof strength and vehicle integrity during a rollover bus accident, which according to the NHTSA occur in roughly 74 percent of all fatal bus crashes. The new legislation also requires the Secretary to prescribe any anti-ejection countermeasures, which include window-glazing and window retention, by 2014.
  • Driver Fatigue: Tired drivers are a huge issue when it comes to commercial and public transportation. New safety legislation aims to develop and implement technologies that will reduce the occurrence of fatigue-related crashes. Under Map-21, the FMSCA is required to complete rulemaking on “electronic Logging Devices” which would enable carriers and regulators to monitor the amount of time bus drivers are behind the wheel by collecting and maintaining driver hours of service.

It is unclear how long bus operators and manufacturers will have to implement the new regulations, once the Transportation Secretary has implemented them, as the final rules have yet to be announced.  However, it is clear from the recent actions against the tour bus operator following this recent bus accident that regulators are getting tough and have improving tools at their disposal to tackle unsafe operators.  Hopefully, this is the beginning of a more proactive approach with greater resources and the authority necessary to change the outdated bus safety policies and regulations governing the motor coach industry, which will, in turn, help prevent tragedies like February’s fatal California bus crash and protect the millions of people who travel by motor coach each year.

School Bus Safety

An average of 23 school-age children die in school transportation-related traffic crashes each year—6 occupants of school transportation vehicles and 17 pedestrians. From the latest reporting period of 1994 to 2004, nearly half of school-age pedestrians killed in school bus crashes were between the ages of 5 and 7 years old. More school-age pedestrians are killed in the afternoon than in the morning, with 36 percent of the fatalities occurring in crashes between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m.

School bus crashes kill an average of 164 people per year. Over the past six years, about 70% of the deaths in fatal school bus crashes were occupants of vehicles other than the school bus and 20% were pedestrians according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS).

An important message from these statistics is that although drivers of all vehicles are required to stop for a school bus that is loading or unloading passengers, children should not rely on them to do so, and should always check to make sure traffic has stopped before proceeding.

Bus Safety / School Bus Safety

School Bus Safety Tips

Every weekday morning around 25 million children across America board school buses. For years regulators have said that school buses are the safest form of transportation for students, but recent school bus crashes, like the fatal crash in Chattanooga in November 22, 2016, remind parents that there are still very real risks. An average of 23 school age children die in school bus related accidents each year. Here are five key school bus safety tips to keep your kids from harm on their way to and from school.

1. Research Your School Bus

The first of our school bus safety tips involves finding out exactly how safe—or unsafe—your child’s school bus is now. Here’s what you need to check:

Is It a Bus or a Van?

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, school buses are the safest method of transportation for students traveling to and from school. Some schools, however, use large passenger vans, instead of school buses, to save money. Not only is there a federal ban on dealerships selling these vans for use in transporting schoolchildren, but also these school-bus substitutes can be downright dangerous.

The height and design of school buses have been purposefully chosen to prevent injuries in case of a bus crash, and the familiar big yellow buses are operated by drivers with commercial licenses or special training. Large passengers vans are unlikely to hold up as well in an accident and can be driven by any licensed driver.

A quick look in the doorjamb of your child’s school bus (or on the driver’s side above the windshield) should reveal a certification sticker that labels the vehicle clearly as a school bus.

Are There Seatbelts?

On November 8, 2015, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) revised its position on seat belts, with NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind announcing, “The position of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is that seat belts save lives. That is true whether in a passenger car or in a big yellow bus.” Rosekind went on to say that the NHTSA believes “every child on every school bus should have a three-point seat belt.”

Despite this, many school buses — especially older ones — do not have seat belts. If they do, the belts are often lap belts, as opposed to the safer three-point system. While some bus manufacturers and drivers claim that the design of school bus seats eliminates the need for seat belts, there are still great risks in bus crashes that involve being hit from the side or the bus rolling over. Take a look at your child’s school bus and see if there are seat belts, and, if so, what kind they are.

Is There Room for Everyone?

An overcrowded bus can leave students perched haphazardly on the edge of seats or even standing in the aisles. In the event of a bus accident, the design of the school bus seats (and any seat belts that might be on board) will provide no protection to those children.

Pay attention to your bus’ capacity and whether you see students unable to fit comfortably on seats.

2. Get to Know Your Driver

In the case of the Chattanooga school bus crash that killed six children, police believe that the driver was driving recklessly and speeding. There had also been complaints filed against the driver and he was in another school bus accident only two months before.
Knowing more about the individual driving your child to school is important. An easy way to begin this process is by simply getting to know the school bus driver. Talk with him or her and ask questions. If you have concerns after the conversation, contact your school district to find out how they screen drivers and how they monitor any new activity on employee driving records.

3. Involve Your Child in School Bus Safety

While you can put these school bus safety tips into practice from home or for a few minutes each day, your child will see much more of what actually happens on the school bus in their daily travels. These are some of the things they need to know:

  • Educate them about the importance of putting on their seatbelt, if their school bus has them.
  • Remind them that moving from their seat when the bus is in motion isn’t safe, and that they should always be seated properly (not lying down or seated with their legs up).
  • Inform them about dangerous driving. Ask them to tell you if they see their driver texting or driving distractedly, and to let you know if they ever feel unsafe on the bus.

4. Speak Up About Issues

As a parent, your voice counts. If you discover your school bus doesn’t have seat belts (or doesn’t have three-point seat belts), speak to your school district about school bus safety. Get in touch with other parents to join together in calling upon the administration to make changes.

If your child’s school bus driver has given you reason to be concerned, or your child has voiced concerns to you, take that information to your principal, and, if necessary, to the bus company contracted by the school. Contact other parents to see if they’ve noticed similar issues or if their children have said anything similar to yours, and present that information as well.

Finally, you can file a complaint through the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

5. Follow Up on School Bus Safety

While it’s important to convey any issues to your school, it’s equally important to follow up on what’s being done about them. Check back in with your principal about a bus driver that may be driving recklessly, or continue to call on your school district to add seat belts to their school buses. It may take more than one try to get resolutions to the issues you’re facing, and it may require contacting multiple people or organizations. In the end, though, it’s worth it to ensure your child’s safety.

Lap belt specifications

Seat belts required on small school buses effective 2011

On October 15, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary E. Peters announced a federal rule that will require lap-and-shoulder belts on small school buses as well as higher seat backs on all school buses.

The new rule will also mandate higher seats in all school buses. By raising the seats from 20 inches to 24 inches, officials hope to prevent taller and heavier children from being thrown over their seats during a school bus accident.

“Even though riding in school buses is the safest form of travel in America today, any accident is still a tragedy,” said Secretary Peters . “Taken together, these steps are designed with a single purpose, making children safer.”

The rule will allow school districts to put federal highway safety funds towards the cost of installing seat belts. The rule became fully effective in 2011.

Of the 25 million children that travel to school on 474,000 school buses in America, about six are killed annually in a school bus accident.

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Related Links


National Highway Transportation Safety Administration press release

Assoc Press: Govt wants kids to buckle up on small school buses