Four Takeaways from School Bus Survey

A school bus turning the corner of a busy street during a bright sunny day. Pedestrians wait for the bus to go in order to cross safely.

There was some good news in 2020 in regards to school bus safety.

In the recent 2019-2020 National School Bus Loading and Unloading Survey completed by the Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE) in partnership with the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS), the report showed the lowest number of student fatalities when loading and unloading a school bus in 10 years with two deaths reported.

While COVID-19 obviously contributed to fewer vehicles on the road in 2020, these two deaths once again highlighted that no matter how many vehicles are on the road, loading and unloading a school bus can still be a dangerous task.

The first involved a 7-year-old Wisconsin girl who was killed by another vehicle while waiting to board the bus, while the other involved a 9-year-old Maryland girl who was struck by the school bus after unloading.

As we dig deeper into the report, here are a few insights we pulled from the info provided:

Impact of COVID-19

Like almost everything last year, COVID-19 shutdowns helped to heavily impact this year’s survey as many schools closed for in-person learning and buses mostly stayed parked.

This resulted in the number of reported fatalities for 2019-2020 to be the lowest they’ve been in a decade, including a 75% reduction from the 2018-19 survey.

Those shutdowns meant that children were not waiting at bus stops in the morning, which has proved to be one of the more dangerous times based on the survey’s findings. One of the two fatalities reported for 2019-2020 happened while the victim was waiting for the bus in the morning. But in the last five years, 17 of the 28 reported fatalities happened in the morning while waiting for the bus.

Two Different Situations

For the two fatalities reported in the survey, the incidents reflected how it isn’t just illegally-passing pedestrian vehicles that cause fatalities when loading and unloading a school bus.

In the case of the 9-year-old Maryland girl, it was the school bus that struck the student and killed her. The student had reportedly unloaded safely from the bus, and she was struck by the right rear wheels of the bus as the driver drove away and began to make a right turn.

In the death of the 7-year-old Wisconsin girl, the school bus was reportedly stopped and had both the stop arm and flashing red lights activated. But a vehicle approaching from the rear failed to stop and passed the bus on the right shoulder, striking and killing the student.

While it’s crucial to continually educate the public on the dangerous of illegally-passing stopped school buses, the 2019-2020 report shows that bus drivers also need to be aware of the responsibility they have to drive safely and protect their students.

Younger Students Are Involved More Often

Another trend the 2019-2020 KSDE survey showed was the majority of these fatalities continue to involve younger students.

In the past 50 years, the survey has found that nearly three-quarters (73%, 917 total) of reported fatalities involved students aged 9 years or younger. In fact, KSDE found that of the 28 fatalities reported in the last five years, only eight of those students were ages 10 or older.

It’s vital to educate all on proper safety practices when loading and unloading a school bus, but the KSDE survey has historically shown that younger students are especially at risk at being involved in an accident.

Varying Conditions

Another finding from the 2019-2020 report is conditions for the two reported fatalities were vastly different from one another.

According to the report, one of the fatalities occurred at dawn while the other occurred at dusk. And in one incident, the weather conditions were clear while it was foggy in the other. And one incident included snowy road conditions while the other happened in dry conditions, with one happening on a state highway and the other on a city street.

On top of that, the KSDE reported that all but four of the 28 fatalities in the last five years happened despite having clear weather conditions. This goes to highlight the fact that loading and unloading accidents can happen at any time – no matter what the conditions are outside.

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