Monday, August 12th, was the first day back to school for Lee County, Florida, kids. It was also the first day of a crash involving a school bus.
In Lehigh Acres, an 8-year-old student was taken to a local hospital after the bus she was on was stuck by a pickup truck on the way to Gateway Elementary School. It was reported that the 18-year-old pickup truck driver did not stop at a stop sign, and plowed into the side of the bus. Based on the photos published by the local news media, its very fortunate that this crash did not result in far more serious injuries.
According to data published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, (NHTSA), school buses are among the safest vehicles on the road. Because of their design, the NHTSA says they are less susceptible to roll-over crashes, are structurally safer than a standard passenger vehicle and their bright yellow color allows them to be seen more readily than other vehicles. In fact, the NHSTA claims buses are 70 times more likely to get your kids to school safely than are passenger vehicles.
Yet, people continue to hit them.
As Fort Myers personal injury attorneys, we've stated this before; it's not cars that cause crashes, its drivers. Although it may seem hard to imagine someone not seeing a large, bright yellow bus somewhere around them, the fact is that running a stop sign is a serious driver error that has led to many major crashes in Southwest Florida.
School Bus Crash Statistics
Here are some key facts regarding collisions, injuries and fatalities involving school-related transportation vehicles:
- An average of 128 people in the U.S. are killed in school-transportation-crashes annually.
- More school-aged pedestrians were killed between 6 am to 7 am, and from 3 pm to 4 pm, than during any other time period.
- Front-impact school bus crashes made up 45% of fatal school-transportation-related crashes.
- 35% of school-aged pedestrian fatalities involving school-transportation-related vehicles were between the ages of 8 to 13.
The NHTSA says that while seat belts have been proven effective in reducing injuries and fatalities in passenger cars and light trucks, the design of large school buses requires a different type of passenger restraint system known as “compartmentalization.” Their policies and regulations require large bus interiors be designed with “strong, closely-spaced seats that have energy-absorbing seat backs”, which they say protect the bus occupants better than individual safety restraints.
Smaller school buses – those weighing less than 10,000 pounds – must be equipped with lap and/or shoulder belts for all seats. NHTSA says the design of these smaller busses is more like a standard passenger vehicle, so seat belts are more effective.
Locally, law enforcement agencies throughout our area are stepping up enforcement of traffic laws near schools and school bus stops. Unfortunately, some people are of the opinion that the rules for driving near a stopped school bus do not apply to them. They're in a hurry, after all, so they think it's OK to zip past a bus that has it's stop sign arm extended and red lights flashing.
In November 2018, a Fort Myers television news station did a story on what school bus drivers see daily on the road, and the numbers were truly alarming. In one day, school bus drivers reported more than 600 incidents of cars illegally passing Lee County school busses. One bus driver was quoted as saying, “I can see right into their vehicles and most of them have cell phones up to their ears, or they're looking at their phone trying to text.”
Practice Safety Before Your Kids Get on the Bus
There are far more students who are injured or killed before or after they're on the bus than there are once the bus is moving.
The recent death of a little girl that was struck and killed while waiting for her bus in the early morning darkness has brought a renewed attention to this problem. Groups of concerned citizens – particularly in Cape Coral and Lehigh – have built and installed hundreds of picnic tables at bus stops, intended to keep the kids from having to sit in the grass or on the sidewalk in the dark. There is also a concerted effort by local municipalities, Florida Power & Light and the Lee County Electric Cooperative to install new streetlights at bus stop intersections and along the roads where kids have to walk to their stop. Still more groups have come together to mount solar powered lights to the picnic tables at the bus stops.
Here are a couple of ideas on keeping your child safe:
- Many parents or other adults take the time to actually wait with their child at the bus stop, and be there when they come home after school. Although many parents' work schedules don't allow for that, it's a good idea if you can make it happen.
- Make sure your child gets to their bus stop in plenty of time. A child who is late and worried about missing the bus is more likely to not see oncoming cars.
- Teach your kids that the bus stop is not a playground. They should wait about 6 (adult) paces away from the edge of the street, and not run around playing.
- Kids should always wait for their bus to come to a complete stop, and for the driver to indicate its safe, before approaching the door to board the bus.
- Kids should never walk behind a school bus. If they need to cross to the opposite side of the road from where the bus door is facing, they should go about 6 feet in front of the bus, and keep eye contact with the driver to make sure its safe to cross in front of the bus.
“Kids really deserve to be safe and protected both on a school bus, and getting on and off the bus,” says attorney Sheba Abraham. “As adults, it's our responsibility to do all we can to make that happen, especially if we need to drive near bus stops when its dark outside.”
Let's hope for a safe school year throughout Southwest Florida, and all do our part to reduce the risk of hurting or killing an innocent child.