There are many different things parents worry about when preparing to send their children off to school. One of these worries is the safety of their children when riding the bus.
Millions of children in the U.S. go back to school each year. Of those students, approximately 25 million take the school bus each day. But according to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA), the greatest risk for students is not riding the bus, but rather approaching it or leaving it. That’s why it’s so important to understand the pervasiveness of school bus accidents and what we can do to help prevent them.
Back to School & School Bus Accidents
Unfortunately, every year there is a spike in accidents involving school buses in the fall with most understandably occurring during drop off and dismissal hours. In fact, on average more school-age pedestrians are killed from 6 to 7:59 a.m. and 3 to 3:59 p.m. than any other times of day.
Children often suffer a variety of injuries as a result of school bus accidents. Such injuries include:
- Concussions and other traumatic brain injury (TBI)
- Internal bleeding
- Sprained and torn ligaments
- Herniated disks
- Broken bones
- Severe skin burns
- Severed limbs
Since there are no seat belts to help restrain passengers, the risk of injury in the event of a crash is greater than compared to regular passenger vehicles. Additionally, the large size of school buses make maneuvering them much more difficult than smaller passenger vehicles. Therefore school buses are less likely to be able to avoid potential crashes.
School Bus Accident Statistics
Unfortunately, school bus injuries can be quite severe, averaging approximately 121 fatalities each year. However, according to the NHTSA, just 10% of those killed in school bus accidents between 2009 and 2018 were occupants of school transportation vehicles. Most (70%) of those killed were occupants of other vehicles and 21% of these fatalities were school-age children (age 18 or younger). About 40% of these school-age children were pedestrians, with three-quarters of the related crashes not occurring at intersections.
This means that most school-age pedestrians are killed while crossing the street outside of a crosswalk. Children often cross in front of a school bus before getting on it or after getting off of it. Unfortunately, due to their shorter stature, the bus driver or another driver often fails to see them if they cross too close to the school bus. Subsequently, over half (52%) of those school-age pedestrians killed in school transportation-related crashes were just 5 to 10 years old.
However, while approximately 68% of these pedestrians were struck and killed by school vehicles, many pedestrians are killed after being struck by other vehicles. Fortunately, there are measures that can be taken to help prevent such tragedies.
It’s important that you teach your children the proper safety precautions to help them to protect themselves. Here’s what to practice with them:
If you’re walking to school
- Always use the sidewalk whenever it’s available.
- If there are no sidewalks, walk in a single file line toward oncoming traffic.
- Only cross the road at the crosswalk.
- Always look both ways before crossing the street.
- If you walk to or from school in the dark, be sure to wear bright and/or reflective clothing.
If you’re crossing the street before or after a ride
- Get to the bus stop at least five minutes before the bus is supposed to arrive.
- Always make sure you are six feet (three giant steps) away from the school bus so that the driver can see you.
- Always walk in front of – and never behind – the school bus.
- Should you drop something in front of the school bus let the driver know before you attempt to pick it up.
Even if you think that your children are old enough to know these safety precautions, be sure that you discuss them with your kids before each school year begins. It’s important to ensure that young children are supervised but if your child is older, discuss an agreed route for getting to and from school.
Reopening Amid Covid-19
In light of the coronavirus pandemic, many students have never attended school or may not have attended school in person this year. Therefore many children don’t know (or don’t remember) these important bus safety tips.
But as many schools begin to reopen for in-person classes, additional safety measures should be taken for school-transportation vehicles, such as buses.
According to the CDC, school systems should take the proper steps to ensure that they are in compliance with local and federal orders. Depending on legal requirements, masks may be required on school buses (and other public transportation). It’s also important that children leave distance between one another while on the school bus. When safe to do, opening windows can help to improve ventilation. You’ll also want to be sure that your child’s school bus is cleaned at least daily if not between each use.
Taking the proper precautions and teaching your children to do the same can help to reduce the chances of injury or death. Unfortunately though, it can’t eliminate the risks. Sometimes accidents can still occur despite doing everything to prevent them. So if your child has been involved in a bus accident caused by another person, you may be compensated.
Who is Responsible After a School Bus Accident?
The necessary medical treatment required to help those who have been injured in a school bus accident depends on the type and severity of the injury or injuries.
If your child has suffered an injury as a result of a school bus driver or other driver’s negligence, you may be entitled to compensation in order to cover the cost of their treatment. In addition to medical bills, your child may also be entitled to compensation for other costs, such as permanent disfigurement or even pain and suffering.
Your child may also be entitled to punitive damages if their injuries were intentionally or egregiously caused. For instance, if a bus driver has alcohol in their system, their actions may be considered egregious and punitive damages may be awarded.
It’s important to note that in Virginia, a civil plaintiff may not be entitled to compensation unless the party responsible is 100% to blame. If your child was even partially responsible for the accident, it could affect the ability to collect damages.
Keep in mind that Virginia only allows someone two years from the date that they are injured to file a personal injury lawsuit. This period of time is called the statute of limitations. However, if the victim is a minor at the time of the accident, the statute of limitations doesn’t start until after the child turns 18. In other words, if your minor child is injured in a school bus accident, they have up until the age of 20 to file a claim for compensation.
If your child has been killed in a school bus accident, the statute of limitations begins on the date of their death. However, you will still only have two years to file a wrongful death claim.
After the statute of limitations has passed, you are no longer able to bring a personal injury claim for your injuries.
With only two years to file a claim, it’s important to get started as soon as possible. Consulting with a qualified Virginia personal injury attorney may often help to improve the outcome of your case. The sooner you hire an attorney, the more time they will have to collect the necessary evidence to help prove your case.
An Experienced Virginia Personal Injury Lawyer Can Help
When you need help you want a law firm and an attorney with the necessary experience to know how to best assist you. The Smith Law Center, in Hampton, VA, has the experience to do just that. Founded more than 70 years ago by Joseph Smith, the firm, which is now run by Smith’s sons, Stephen and Howard, maintains the same philosophy: to help individuals who have been wrongfully injured through the negligence of others, and to provide them with superior legal representation.
With more than 40 years of legal experience under his belt, Mr. Stephen Smith has a breadth of experience litigating catastrophic injury cases. He is internationally recognized for his groundbreaking work related to traumatic brain injury and has even won the largest mild TBI verdict in the world.
Attorney Howard Smith, with five decades in practice, has also consistently obtained multi-million dollar settlements and verdicts throughout the U.S. His practice focuses primarily on cases concerning wrongful death, medical malpractice, auto accidents, trucking crashes, and brain injuries.
Many children are hurt every year by careless or negligent drivers, including school bus drivers. At the Smith Law Center, we want to ensure the driver who harmed your child is held responsible. We may have to file a lawsuit against a school authority over the behavior of a bus driver. To learn more, contact us at (757) 244-7000.