School bus accidents are a cause for great concern among parents and school officials alike. While the opportunity for serious injury is always present on the street, we would all prefer to believe that our children are safe anytime they leave the house. But as Maryland personal injury lawyers, we know that realistically no one can guarantee that kids will never be hurt while walking to school or while riding the bus.
No long ago, a traffic accident outside of Maryland opened up the discussion again regarding safety belts in school buses. Although the initial reaction whenever this kind of crash occurs is to do anything to lessen the extent of occupant injuries; and nobody can argue with people who say that even the prevention of one child’s death is worth the investment.
The particular rollover accident on I-81 that involved a school bus taking kids to summer camp. According to news reports, more than two dozen adults and children were hurt as a result when the bus crashed into a passenger vehicle and then overturned on a rural highway north of Maryland.
State police officials reported that the crash occurred when a Cadillac, driven by an elderly Hagerstown man, attempted to pass the school bus but failed to notice the oncoming traffic. Overcorrecting, 79-year-old Edward Shaffer steered back into the path of the bus, causing the wreck. The force of the collision caused the bus to roll over, and emergency rescue personnel were needed to free three of the youngsters who were pinned inside the wrecked commercial vehicle. The driver of the passenger car was also trapped until EMS workers could extricate him.
No surprise that the topic of school bus safety is an emotionally charged one, with multiple issues at stake, not to mention the health and safety of young passengers. But over the years it has become more and more obvious that most school systems either don’t have the money or the will to equip buses with safety belts; and a similar situation exists with local and state governments, which are not likely to mandate seatbelts any time soon.
Backed by research that has apparently convinced a large segment of the population that school buses top the list of safe modes of transportation, even though the occupants of these buses are unrestrained inside the bus. And it’s true that most school buses throughout the United States do not come equipped with safety belts. (It should be noted that smaller buses — those that carry up to a dozen or so kids — are required by law to have seat belts installed.
Most experts agree that having seatbelts in school buses would probably save lives and reduce injuries during a school bus accident. In fact, a study out last year in Alabama concluded that having safety belts installed and used in buses across the nation would probably save the life of maybe one child every eight years or so. A contributor to that study stated that a child riding in a school bus is up to eight times more safe than the same youngster riding with his or her parent in the family car.
Experts in the field also state that school buses already have inherent safety advantages over other forms of transportation, including size, visibility to other drivers, mandatory driver safety training and related traffic safety regulations designed to enhance the safety of school buses and their young passengers.
When it comes to seatbelts in school buses a number of issues are immediately obvious. These include the time and effort required to assure all children are properly belted during operation; the cost, which estimates indicate could range from $2,000 to more than $10,000 per bus; and training and enforcement issues such as educational campaigns for staff and students, penalties for kids who fail to buckle up, not to mention the potential unwillingness of some parents to accept punishments.
School bus crash injures 15 children, 8 adults in Pennsylvania, CNN.com, June 27, 2011