School bus accidents across state spark parental concerns

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: December 2, 2018 | 1:45 p.m. 

15 school bus-involved crashes, 71 injuries in Dinwiddie between 2013-2017 – DMV data

VIRGINIA – Entering the third month of school for many students across the Commonwealth, headlines featuring student accomplishments and state standardized test data have been mixed with a number of school bus-related crashes, a troubling fact for some parents and guardians. 

Earlier this month, a driver crashed their SUV into the back of a Dinwiddie County school bus as it made its morning pick-ups along Boydton Plank Road. That crash resulted in five students being transported to Petersburg’s Southside Regional Medical Center for evaluation after complaints of back pain.

This is the first accident in the school division this school year that required additional evaluation of students. In October, a school bus and a passing truck collided mirrors, resulting in no injuries or charges being filed.

Just before that incident, in Lunenburg County, a school bus there overturned after a collision with a dump truck near Route 40 in the town. According to published reports, the bus was attempting to turn onto a side street when the truck failed to stop in time and struck the bus in the rear, causing the bus to spin and eventually overturn.

According to Virginia State Police, of the 13 children on the bus at the time of the crash, six were reportedly injured, one seriously. According to media reports, five children and the bus driver were taken to the hospital with the school division later emailing parents to say the injuries from last Tuesday’s crash ranged from broken bones to cuts and bruises. 

Most experts agree the most dangerous time for a child riding a school bus is when they have to either enter or exit the bus, where they may have to walk along or cross roadways. (USAF)

A number of accidents involving school buses have been reported across the region, with a number of them occurring over the last month. A single-vehicle crash in Chesterfield in late October sent two students to the hospital for evaluation and treatment after their bus went off the side of Otterdale Road, a van driver was injured in a head-on crash in Hanover County as that bus transported nearly a dozen students to school there during the early October crash, with no students reportedly being injured, and a Petersburg school bus was rear-ended in October while taking students to the Westview Early Childhood Education Center in the city’s west end. Emergency crews evaluated the eight children onboard the bus and they were transported to school via a substitute bus and their parents were notified. 

In addition to the incidents locally, the story of the tragic death of three young Indiana children as they boarded their school bus in October continues to break the heart of the nation. According to law enforcement, as the school bus stopped and activated its stop arm and exterior lighting to let drivers know the bus was in the process of picking up students, the female driver of a pick-up truck approaching from the opposite direction allegedly struck four children as the group crossed the street to board. 

Three children, aged six and nine-years-old, all died at the scene. A fourth child, aged 11, was flown to the hospital for treatment of serious injuries. 

Following this incident, the driver was charged with reckless homicide and passing a school bus with the stop arm extended.

With the recent news of accidents involving school buses, particularly when another vehicle is involved, some parents have questioned if the increased levels of distraction by drivers, with such things as cell phones and in-car entertainment units, are contributing to some of these crashes.

According to data provided by AAA Mid-Atlantic and the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, with over a month left in 2018, the number of school bus crashes has already eclipsed the total set in 2017.

So far, between Jan. 1 through Nov. 18, there have been an estimated 528 crashes involving school buses across Virginia, up from the 2017 total of 522, but below 2016’s reported total of 634 crashes in Virginia DMV data.

While fatalities in these crashes remain at zero, a trend that has been consistent in the Commonwealth over the last several years, over 225 injuries have been reported in school bus crashes this year, 50 below 2017’s calendar year total and well below the nearly 300 injuries in 2016.

Overall, AAA Mid-Atlantic reports statewide crashes involving school buses have increased by three percent over the last five years. 

Locally, over the last five years, between 2013 through 2017, there were a total of 15 school bus-related accidents, according to data provided by the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles. 

2014 saw the most school bus-related accidents with five, while there have been three each year from 2015 to 2017. 

Regarding injuries, over that five-year period, Dinwiddie saw 71 injuries from school bus-related crashes. 2016 saw 22 injuries reported, while 2017 saw 33 injuries reported, based on state transportation data.

School Bus Crash Data – Dinwiddie County
Calendar Year Crashes Fatalities Injuries
2013 1 0 14
2014 5 0 0
2015 3 0 2
2016 3 0 22
2017 3 0 33

*Data Source: Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles

When drilling down into the statewide data, over the last five years, a majority of school bus drivers involved in a crash – 58 percent – were found to have committed “no improper action,” as opposed to only a third of drivers of other vehicles. 

When it comes to improper action by each party, state data shows bus drivers are commonly found to have not had the right-of-way, following too closely, improperly backing, failing to or improperly signaling and failing to maintain proper control.

For drivers of other vehicles involved in these type of crashes, following too closely, not having the right-of-way, and failing to maintain control were among the top improper actions for drivers. 

AAA Mid-Atlantic’s data also revealed 12 percent of all crashes involving school buses in the Commonwealth over the last half-decade occurred within a school zone. 

 “Recent and alarmingly frequent reports of crashes involving school children in or around school buses are unsettling. Children and their families expect and deserve to feel safe about the transportation provided to get them to and from school,” said Martha Mitchell Meade, Manager Public and Government Affairs for AAA. “Motorists and school bus drivers must be keenly alert and focused, obey traffic safety laws and do everything possible to protect the lives of school children.” 

Efforts to roads safer for children and buses have seen their share of success as AAA Mid-Atlantic reports convictions for passing stopped school buses have increased nearly ten percent over the last five years. 

Passing a stopped school bus that has its lights and signage activated is considered reckless driving, leading to six points on your driving record, three for a non-reckless citation and a base fine of $250.

For Meade, she believes drivers need to put the screens away and focus on the road ahead of them as they travel across the Commonwealth.

“In addition to following the rules of the road, motorists are also reminded to put away phones and other distractions to keep focused on the road as buses can stop and start frequently, picking up and dropping off students,” Meade added. 

Despite the uptick in crashes, school buses remain the safest vehicle on the road, keeping children safer while traveling to and from school than traveling by car, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 

“The greatest risk to a child is not riding a bus, but approaching or leaving one,” said Meade, as the Indiana tragedy remains fresh in the minds of many. “It’s important that parents, students, teachers, motorists, school bus operators, school administrators, and other safety advocates join forces to build awareness of the importance of school bus safety.”

Meade and AAA Mid-Atlantic remind parents and guardians while waiting at a bus stop, to have their children wait in a location where the bus driver can see them easily while driving down the street and to not let their children play in or near the street. 

While getting on and off the bus, children should wait until the bus comes to a complete stop, the door opens, and the driver indicates that it is okay before approaching the bus door to get onto or off the bus and have them use the handrail to avoid falling.

Warn children that if they drop something getting on and off the bus, they should never attempt to pick it up. Instead, they should tell the driver and follow the driver’s instructions.

Your child should never walk behind a school bus. If your child must cross the street in front of the bus, tell him/her to walk on a sidewalk or along the side of the street to a place at least five giant steps (10 feet) in front of the bus before crossing. Your child should also make eye contact with the bus driver before crossing to make sure the driver can see him/her. 

If you meet your child at the bus stop after school, wait on the side where the child will be dropped off, not across the street. Children can be so excited to see you after school that they dash across the street and forget the safety rules.

For drivers, slowing down and watching for children who may be traveling to and from bus stops is critical, along with making sure the path is clear as they back out of a garage or driveway. 

AAA stresses to drivers that they should never try to pass a bus as it slows to prepare to stop and passing said bus while its lights and signage are activated can result in a reckless driving offense and stiff fines.

Copyright 2018 by Womack Publishing
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