Children's Health: The Risks of Riding the School Bus
Most parents breathe a sigh of relief when their kids march off to the bus stop in the morning. But getting on the school bus may be the most dangerous thing children do all day.
School-bus-related accidents send 17,000 children to emergency rooms each year in the United States, twice the number previously estimated, according to an article in the November Pediatrics. Crashes accounted for just 42 percent of the injuries over the period studied; nearly one quarter of the children were injured climbing aboard or getting off. (Previous tallies were based on police reports, not emergency-room visits, and didn't pick up non-crash-related injuries.)
Most of the injuries were not life threatening and ranged from strains and sprains to head injuries. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, fewer than nine children on average are killed in school bus accidents each year.
Children were most likely to be injured in September and October, when both children and bus drivers are getting used to new routines. "It's the beginning of the school year, maybe things are a little rowdier, a little crazier," says Jennifer McGeehan, a researcher at Columbus Children's Hospital's Center for Injury Research and lead author of the Pediatrics study. "Perhaps motorists aren't used to having buses on the road."
Children ages 10 to 14 received the most injuries compared with other age groups. "Children 10 to 14 years old may be more likely to ride the school bus because they are more independent than younger children, and older teens are more likely to ride in a car with a friend or drive themselves to school," says McGeehan, an epidemiologist.
Having monitors on buses might reduce injuries, McGeehan says, because drivers would be able to focus on driving, rather than policing children's behavior. And using seat belts could reduce the risk of children sliding off seats and being injured when the bus rounds a turn or the driver stops suddenly. Only five statesCalifornia, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, and New Yorkhave requirements for seat belts on school buses. The NHTSA has cautioned against using lap-only belts, because younger children can suffer internal injuries from them in crashes, but the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends lap-shoulder belts in all new school buses. The federal safety agency requires seat belts in smaller buses but not larger ones, based on the presumption that the larger buses absorb impact better. NHTSA also requires that school bus seats have high, padded backs.
But school districts have balked at the expense of installing lap-shoulder belts, not only because of the cost of the equipment but because it reduces the number of children a bus can hold. Some have successfully experimented with lower-cost improvements, including high-traction floor mats that reduce falls for students entering and leaving buses.