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How Safe are School Buses in Florida?

The National Research Council has found that school buses are actually much safer for children than being dropped off at school by their parents. Nevertheless, for every family that has lost a child to a school bus accident, school bus accidents — even if they constitute only a small percentage of vehicle accidents — still occur far too often. Now that back-to-school season is almost here for Florida families, many Florida parents are thinking about back to school safety. Bus safety is a big part of that.

A school bus accident is every parent’s nightmare. Although these accidents do not often happen, they can cause fatalities, permanent injury, brain injury, spinal cord injury, burns, and other serious injuries. The panic after an accident, when parents try to learn whether their children are injured, is often deeply frightening and traumatic for the whole family.

According to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, almost one million public school students rode on school buses in 2001 alone. Between1998 and 2002, 4,830 school buses in Florida were involved in accidents. These accidents involved 53 children who were outside a bus and 32,207 children who were inside a school bus. As a result of these accidents, there were six child fatalities. Four of these children were killed getting off and on a bus while two children were killed in the bus. 56 injuries were so severe that they required emergency treatment as a result of these accidents.

School bus drivers were found to be not at fault in these accidents 69% of the time. Poor weather conditions were also mostly ruled out as causes of the accidents. However, drivers of school buses during this period between 1998 and 2002 were found to be cited more often than other motorists for improper turns and improper backing. In research conducted on school bus accidents, it was found that the school bus loading and unloading area is generally the most dangerous for children since a driver cannot see children on all sides of the bus.

As a result of the research done into school bus accidents, a number of recommendations were made. These included better school bus driver training and improved loading zone safety. A report by the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles suggested that education programs for school bus safety include parents, children, as well as drivers so that everyone understands how child passengers can safely get on and off school buses. The report also suggested changes to safety belts and seating systems to make buses safer.

The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles report also concluded that private school buses performed better than public school buses in regard to the severity of bus crash injuries. Currently, all drivers who transport children must meet physical requirements, pass a yearly physical exam, and post a certificate. All school bus drivers also need to have at least 5 years of driving experience and must be able to pass a background check. Drivers must also complete 40 hours of training. Given that the requirements for bus drivers are the same for public and private schools, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles would like more research done as to why one set of drivers seems to fare better in bus accidents.