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California School Bus Safety

A news report of a school bus accident strikes fear in the hearts of parents, even if the accident occurred in another state and the children on board are unharmed. Entrusting your children to others can be difficult, especially when they are young and new to experienced like taking a bus to and from school.

Fortunately, school buses are actually among the safest vehicles on the road. Although you may feel safer and more in control with your kids in the back seat, the numbers suggest otherwise. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), students are about 70 times as likely to arrive safely at school when they travel by school bus rather than by car.

School Bus Safety Regulations in Los Angeles County

It’s no accident that school buses are so much safer than passenger cars. These buses are the most regulated vehicles on the road, and are designed to promote passenger safety, too.

Some of the features and protections that keep your kids safe on their “commute” include:

  • School buses are equipped with “stop arms,” and drivers are prohibited from passing a school bus that is loading or unloading passengers
  • School buses are designed for high visibility, from the eye-catching color to flashing red lights
  • School bus seating is designed to shield passengers from and absorb crash impact
  • School buses have strict technical specifications, such as high crush standards and rollover protection

Regulations and requirements vary to ensure maximum protection in different types of vehicles. For example, in a large school bus with a structure designed to distribute crash impact, federal law does not require seat belts. However, smaller school buses with less structural protection must provide seatbelts for passengers. California offers an extra level of protection, as one of only six states mandating the installation of seat belts in all school buses manufactured since 2005.

California School Bus Transportation Accidents

According to Stanford Children’s Health, about 17,000 children are treated in emergency rooms each year for school bus injuries. That may sound like a significant number, but actually represents a tiny fraction of the children traveling by school bus. Nationwide, about 450,000 school buses travel more than four billion miles each year, carrying more than 23 million children.

Not only do the injured children treated in emergency rooms account for less than one-tenth of one percent of students riding school buses, the vast majority of these injuries are minor, such as sprains and bruises.

In fact, school bus accidents are much more dangerous for people outside the vehicle than for passengers. In the 10-year period from 2003-2012, the NHTSA reports that there were 1,353 fatalities associated with school bus accidents. However, 71% of those who lost their lives in school bus accidents were occupants of other vehicles. Another 21% were pedestrians, bicyclists and others not in a crash-involved vehicle. Only 8% of fatalities were occupants of the school bus—about 108 passengers over a 10-year period.

L.A. School Bus Stop Risks

Although the risk is still quite low, the risk to students at and around bus stops is greater than the risk to passengers on the bus. Student fatalities are more than twice as likely to occur at or near bus stops as they are on the bus. These accidents typically involve children being hit by the bus or by a passing vehicle, and usually take place within 10 feet of the school bus.

Most victims of this type of accident are between the ages of five and seven. Younger children may be less able to make good judgments about crossing the street or proximity to vehicles, and may be less visible to bus drivers and drivers of other vehicles.

$36.1 Million Awarded in Bus Stop Injury Case

One such case recently received news coverage in California, after a San Bernardino jury returned a $36.1 million verdict in the case of Isabella Sanchez. Sanchez was six years old when, in 2012, she was struck by a car while crossing the street mid-block to board her school bus. The accident resulted in serious long-term injuries, including traumatic brain injury (TBI). The private bus company operating the route was found to be legally responsible although it was not the bus that hit the child. The jury determined that the company and its driver had been negligent in failing to advise the school district of a “pattern of unsafe crossings” at the stop.

Tips for Los Angeles Parents

Parents can help young children to stay safe when waiting for, boarding, and exiting the school bus by encouraging them to:

  • Pay close attention when entering the street, and to watch for cars even when the bus driver has the stop sign extended
  • Follow instructions from the bus driver or crossing guard exactly
  • Keep a safe distance from the bus when it is arriving and departing—at least 10 feet if possible
  • Never cross the street behind the bus, nor close to the front of the bus

Liability for School Bus Accidents in California

When a school bus accident does occur or a pedestrian is injured or killed by a school bus, liability for the accident may not be immediately obvious. One reason that investigation may be required to determine liability is that some school districts own and operate school buses, while others contract with outside companies. Thus, if an accident occurs because the bus driver was negligent or because the bus itself was not maintained in good working order, the responsible party may vary.

However, the determination isn’t as simple as just finding out who owned and operated the bus and employed the driver. Under some circumstances, for example, the school district will be liable even though an outside company provided the bus and driver.

It’s also possible that the accident was caused in whole or part by a defect in the design of the bus, manufacture of a part, or some other issue attributable to the manufacturer.

An attorney experienced in school bus accident cases and other motor vehicle accident claims can be your best resource for assessing liability after this type of injury.

Talk to an Experienced School Bus Accident Lawyer

If you or your child has been injured in a school bus accident or at a school bus stop, the complexities of safety regulations and potential legal responsibility should be the least of your worries. However, you will likely need fair compensation in order to pay medical bills, obtain necessary assistance, and make up for income lost as a result of the accident.

Working with an experienced personal injury attorney from the beginning will allow you and your family to focus on physical and emotional recovery while a professional manages your claim.

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