Recent bus accidents including a school bus rollover Monday in Elk Grove that left three with minor injuries and a horrific collision near Palm Springs that killed 11 Sunday might have people feeling jittery about bus travel, and wondering if safety measures in place are adequate.
The newest tool for travelers and parents to check on the safety records of carriers is an app being promoted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. The app, called “Safer Bus,” allows users to access the safety records of interstate passenger carriers.
While the goal of eradicating traffic deaths is so far unrealized, a wide array of federal and state laws dictate specific safety requirements for the various kinds of buses and their operation.
School buses are among the safest forms of transportation, according to the National Highway Safety Administration, which found that students were about eight times safer riding in a school bus than with their parents, and about 50 times safer than driving themselves or riding with another teen.
School buses might not look like much, but safety is the primary consideration in their design. Safety features include side crash rails that protect students from side impacts, steel cages to protect fuel tanks from impact and leakage, rollover protection, emergency exits, passenger seating design that protects passengers, “like an egg carton protects eggs” and “conspicuous reflective markings on bus exterior” for visibility at night, according to the American School Bus Council.
Because of the above-mentioned “egg carton” design, only buses weighing less than 10,000 pounds are required to have seat belts. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found lap belts in school buses appear to provide little if any additional safety for children, and in fact could increase the risk of neck and abdominal injuries.
School bus drivers must pass rigorous tests and carry a commercial driver’s license with a School Bus Endorsement. They must get special training on driving, student loading/unloading procedures and emergency medical procedures. Requirements concerning alcohol and drug testing as well as periodic medical exams are among the hurdles to be overcome by drivers.
A laundry list of state and federal requirements also control charter passenger buses.
In 2013, the NHTSA, ruled that new passenger buses should be equipped with lap and shoulder belts for each passenger and driver seat. “This new rule enhances the safety of these vehicles by significantly reducing the risk of fatalities and serious injuries in frontal crashes and the risk of occupant ejection in rollovers,” the NHTSA said in a news release on its website.
Federal requirements for interstate carriers include limiting drivers from working no more than 15 hours, with driving time limited to 10 hours, after which the driver must rest for at least 10 hours before getting behind the wheel again. Passenger carriers that travel within one state are governed by state laws, which are generally the same or similar to federal laws.