Are School Buses Safe Enough?

school bus safety

school bus safetyConcerns about school bus safety are frequently a matter of intense discussion, particularly in the wake of a notable accident involving a school bus on the road. Everyone talks about wanting to make school buses safer, and understandably enough. Every child hurt or killed in a school bus accident is a tragedy.

Yet... the fact is that school buses are already incredibly safe. They have a fatalities-to-riders ratio which is so low that it genuinely becomes reasonable to question whether it can be reliably pushed much lower.

Are school buses already safe enough?

How Safe Is 'Safe Enough'?

The most reliable statistics on school bus safety and accident rates come from the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA), a government agency tasked with overseeing safety on our roadways. Their bus safety statistics are striking:

  • Students are seventy times (70x) more likely to arrive safely at school via bus, than via private passenger vehicles.
  • On average, 4-6 students are killed annually while riding a school bus. This is compared with more than 2,000 yearly school-aged traffic fatalities in general.
  • On average, around 32,000 fatal traffic accidents occur every year. Of these, less than one half of one percent (.4%) involved a school bus in any way. 

For reference, there are an estimated 480,000 school buses on the road every day, carrying over 25 million students.

As you can see, these statistics are nothing to scoff at. If someone asks, "Can school buses be made safer?" they aren't callous or penny-pinching. When one takes it as given that 100% safe ground transportation is an impossibility, it starts becoming reasonable to ask whether it's even possible for buses to be made significantly safer.

These stats can even influence some debates, such as whether seat belts on buses are worthwhile. Considering that seat belts themselves can become dangerous if misused, it's legitimate to ask whether they would lower or increase safety risks. Fortunately, many groups nationwide are testing this question right now.

Where Should School Bus Safety Initiatives Focus?

In our opinion, buses themselves are about as safe as they reasonably can be. However, there are still two major safety issues worth addressing that these statistics don't necessarily address:

  1. On board safety. Sometimes students are a major danger to each other. Better video surveillance can help alleviate this.
  2. Passing motorists. Stop arm violations are probably the biggest remaining threat to student passengers. Multiple initiatives are exploring ways to reduce the danger to students crossing the street.

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But, what do you think? Are buses safe enough? Where does your district place its priorities, in terms of budgeting? Let's talk in the comments!