Yesterday, a school bus collided with a truck in Brampton, Ontario, critically injuring a 10-year-old boy and seriously harming another child. It was the latest in a series of dramatic crashes that have heightened many parents’ fears about the safety of the yellow buses their kids ride on every day.
In Atlanta last month, an accident involving a motor coach killed six college-baseball-team members, and in Huntsville, Ala., in November, a school-bus crash killed four teenage girls.
Some parents, such as Gwen MacMillan, a Leawood, Kan., mother of three, opt to drive their kids themselves rather than entrust them to a school bus. “I really don’t understand why the buses don’t have seat belts, because it seems like they would make them safer,” says Ms. MacMillan, echoing many parents’ concerns.
Yet accident data and interviews with transportation experts suggest school buses are actually far safer than other forms of school transport, including the family car. Indeed, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, school buses are by far the safest passenger vehicles on the road.
School-bus makers have made several upgrades in the past few years to address everything from driver visibility to handing, maneuverability and comfort. Space-age adhesives replace spot welds and rivets in certain body and chassis parts, and some new buses have Global Positioning Systems and computerized controls that function like the “black box” recorders found in aircraft. Many of the new models represent the first significant changes to school-bus design since the most recent federal safety standard for school buses took effect in 1977.