School buses bulky design and slow speeds help reduce the risk of injury and death, but that doesn't mean that they don't pose a risk to passenger safety. Like any other large vehicle, school buses can topple, be blown off the road, or become involved in collisions at highway speeds. Further, oncoming traffic poses a considerable risk to students entering and exiting the bus.
Data Highlights the Dangers
From 2007 to 2016, 1,282 people died in accidents involving school buses. Pedestrians and cyclists outside of the vehicle accounted for approximately 21% of these fatalities. On average, school bus accidents cause 128 fatalities per year. Further, it is estimated that there are more than 17,000 injuries suffered in school bus accidents. Of these, approximately 40% of accidents involve another vehicle. Thus, while the number of fatalities caused by such accidents is lower than those caused by large trucks and automobile accidents, it is still a significant number to consider. The most dangerous time is immediately after school between 3 and 4pm when approximately 38% of student fatalities occur.
"The Danger Zone"
Students are at the greatest risk of suffering a serious injury or fatality while entering and exiting the school bus. Approximately 24% of injuries are suffered within "the danger zone" which includes the immediate 10-foot area surrounding the bus. Blind spots and traffic that fails to yield to warning signals present a significant risk to child safety as students get on and off the bus. Those at greatest risk are between the ages of 5 and 7 who are more difficult to see by oncoming traffic than older students.
Illinois Considers Seat Belts for School Buses
Most states do not require school buses to be equipped with seat belts for students to utilize. However, that may be changing in Illinois. Last year, legislators in the general assembly introduced legislation that would require school buses to be equipped with three-point seat belts. These are the same type of seat belts used in passenger automobiles. HB3377 would require all new school buses to be equipped with these devices. However, there is currently no provision to require installation on a school district's existing fleet of buses. As a result, should the legislation become law it could take a decade or longer for every school bus in the state to have seat belts to protect students from serious harm or wrongful death.