According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), school bus accidents resulting in death are rare and it is significantly safer for students to take the bus than to drive themselves, ride with friends, or be driven by their parents to school. Though buses are designed to be a safer mode of transportation than regular passenger vehicles, a school bus collision in Southeast Houston this past year, which resulted in the deaths of two students and several serious injuries, is a reminder that current safety measures are not enough.
The bus involved in the accident was struck by another driver on the left side who was swerving to avoid hitting another vehicle. The bus driver overcorrected and the bus flipped over the guardrail on the 610 South Loop and landed on Telephone Road. The bus was equipped with lap belts, but it is not clear whether the students were wearing them at the time of the accident. In response to the deadly collision, some have called for the Texas Senate Education Committee to evaluate school bus safety and data collection.
School Bus Collisions by the Numbers
The NHTSA reports that from 2004 to 2013, 1,214 (.4%) of the 340,039 fatal motor vehicle accidents involved school bus collisions and those accidents resulted in 1,344 fatalities. Of the 1,344 fatalities, 327 were school age-children who were struck by buses, 54 were occupants of the school bus, 147 were occupants of other vehicles involved in the collisions, 116 were pedestrians, 9 were cyclists and 1 was another non-occupant. Given that there are around 480,000 school buses traveling an average of 10 billion miles per year, the risk of death related to a school bus accident is relatively low.
The NHTSA data does not include the number of nonfatal injuries, but the most recent research from the American Academy of Pediatrics shows that an estimated 17,000 children go to the emergency room each year because of bus-related accidents. Of these 17,000 injuries, 42% were directly related to injuries sustained during a collision while the remaining injuries were due to things like slips and falls, hitting an object or another person during a sudden turn or stop, and roughhousing between children on the bus.
School Bus Seat Belt Laws
Currently, there is no federal mandate that school buses have seat belts and there are only six states that require school buses to be equipped with seat belts. This is due in large part to the NHTSA’s position that seat belts are not necessary because buses provide collision protection through compartmentalization. This refers to the design of the interior of large buses, which provides a protective envelope of closely-spaced seats with energy-absorbing seat backs. However, the NHTSA recently reversed course, and is now calling for all school buses to be equipped with seat belts.
In Texas, the law requires that all school buses purchased on or after September 1, 2010, be equipped with three-point seat belts, which means a shoulder and lap belt. A significant loophole in the law is that school districts are only required to comply with the mandate if the state has provided funding for the requirement. While the Texas legislature earmarked $10 million in funding in 2009 for seat belts, there is currently no funding to equip buses with seat belts and less than $500,000 has been given to school districts. Texas school districts are required to submit annual reports on school bus accidents and injuries to the Texas Education Agency, but officials at that agency have acknowledged that nearly 16% of districts did not submit reports last year and there are indications that the existing numbers are likely insufficient.
Contact an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney
If your child or a loved one has been injured in a school bus accident, contact the experienced personal injury lawyers at The Krist Law Firm, P.C. for help. Our experienced Houston car accident attorneys can help assess your individual case, and determine your best legal options. The attorneys at The Krist Law Firm, P.C. have decades of experience helping individuals and families receive fair compensation for medical costs, physical pain, mental anguish, physical limitations, and disfigurement caused by a motor vehicle accident.
Please contact our firm today at (281) 283-8500 to schedule a free, one-on-one case consultation with one of our skilled Houston personal injury lawyers.