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Back-to-School" Means Much Greater Safety Risks For Children
5/31/2010 2:20:45 PM

Back-to-School" Means Much Greater Safety Risks For Children Who Don't Ride the School Bus 
 
 
Albany, NY – Recent incidents in some of the nation's schools have appropriately focused attention on new ways to improve school safety for America's children. Often overlooked in the discussion, however, is the safety of children as they travel to and from school. A deadly, yet little noticed trend is increasing as more and more children stop riding school buses, and instead choose more dangerous alternatives such as private autos, bicycles or even walking, according to the School Bus Information Council.

"As children across America are headed back-to-school, parents need to ask themselves, ‘is my child getting to school in the safest manner possible?' If their children aren't riding school buses, the answer is clearly, no," said Mike Martin, a spokesperson for the School Bus Information Council. He added, "The number of students who ride the bus to school has dropped off in recent years. In fact, nationwide, barely over half of students ride school buses. The rest are using less-safe means of transportation. It is up to parents, school boards, legislators and the students themselves to promote safety in all circumstances, and the best place to start is on the bus."

A recent survey conducted by the research firm Wirthlin Worldwide, found that about one-third of respondents believed that driving their children themselves was the safest way for children to get to and from school – but statistics prove otherwise.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), between 1987 and 1997, the number of school-aged children killed in passenger cars on a weekday during school hours compared to children killed while riding a school bus during the same hours was 80 to 1*.

Almost half of those surveyed believed that alternate means of getting to and from school, whether is was walking, riding a bike, a student driving a student or an adult driving a student, were safer then riding a school bus. "The cruel irony here," said Dr. Dee Alsop, Senior Researcher for Wirthlin Worldwide, "is that those parents who thought they were doing the most to ensure their children's transportation safety were actually putting their children at greater risk."

A modern school bus (those manufactured after April 1, 1977) must meet more Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards than any other vehicle on the road. The size of the school bus alone gives it an important advantage in all but the most catastrophic circumstances, since larger, heavier vehicles provide excellent protection to their occupants.

In addition to school bus design and equipment considerations, school bus transportation requires numerous other measures to help to ensure the safety of children who ride a school bus. For example, school bus drivers must hold a special license, called a Commercial Driver's License (CDL), that is required by the Federal Highway Administration. NHTSA has also developed driver training for both new and experienced drivers, as well as maintaining the School Bus Driver Instructional Program which provides pupil transportation managers with educational materials to teach core skills to school bus drivers.

When survey respondents were told that school buses were indeed the safest form of transportation for children traveling to and from school, 35% said school bus transportation had the greatest need of funding over teacher salaries, repairing existing schools, text books, enrichment/cultural activities and building new schools. According to Martin of the School Bus Information Council, "As school budgets continue to shrink, all too often the first thing cut is pupil transportation – and the safety ramifications of such cuts are not fully appreciated. Parents need to be given all of the safety facts when it comes to children's safety – whether its their safety at school or their safety in getting to and from school."

*Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Fatal Analysis Reporting System (FARS) and "School Bus Safety: Safe Passage for America's Children"

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