Every day parents put their kids on school buses assuming they are safe and in good mechanical condition. On any given day, approximately 47 million elementary and secondary school children board a yellow school bus, yet remarkably few of these buses have seat belts, and an alarming percentage have either not been properly inspected or failed inspection altogether.
While responsible parents would never put their children in an automobile with bad brakes or allow them to ride in an automobile without the use of a seatbelt, the ubiquitous yellow school bus is a vehicular dinosaur.
Though most states have proposed legislation mandating seat belts on school buses, only a handful actually have them. Even fewer mandate their usage. Studies show that students riding on belt-equipped buses roam the aisles less frequently and are more likely to remain seated. Additionally, bus drivers report being less distracted because they have to spend less time handling student misbehavior and can concentrate more on driving safely.
Seat belt opponents argue that school buses already are the safest form of transportation on the road and that equipping buses with seat belts would reduce overall capacity. Private contractors, as well as many school officials who operate a third of the nation’s school buses, have fought the installation of lap belts on school buses for more than 30 years. For the most part, federal and state governments have gone along with them.
Parents should also be reassured that when they put their children on a school bus each day that the vehicle is safe and has passed a recent inspection. Yet surprise inspections throughout the country have shown that nearly 80 percent of these buses fail inspection—over half of which fail for mechanical reasons.
In a recent survey of school bus mechanics, the braking systems were the most common concern expressed. While the effect of wear and tear may seem obvious, many brake problems are concealed. The brakes may appear to be functional when actually little force is being applied to the brake drums. Ideally, all wheels should be doing an equal amount of work, applying and releasing at the same time. Something as simple as maintaining air pressure in the braking system, can prevent a catastrophic failure. Misalignment or brakes that are out of balance are unseen problems, but certainly can be felt by the driver. It is not enough to repair a problem once a defect is found because of the inspection process; inspection programs must be thorough and preventative in nature, and drivers need to know how to recognize a problem before it becomes an incident. In the event of a serious injury, defective brake issues should be thoroughly explored by experts who have full access to the brakes before changes are made.
School buses should be designed to ensure the safety of the millions of children they transport annually and maintenance and proper inspection of these buses should be the rule and not the exception. Any school bus wreck that transpires is not an accident if the problems that cause them are well known. The National Coalition for School Bus Safety found that some operators are making money by running unsafe buses by waiting for state inspectors to identify defects rather than doing preventative maintenance because it would mean removing the bus off the road for a period of time.
Parents have a right to expect that buses are designed and maintained to minimize student injuries. If a member of your family or someone you know has been injured as a result of a collision involving a school bus, call Law Offices of Gary Green toll free and without obligation at 1-888-442-7947 or send us an e-mail at ggreen@gGreen.com.