School Bus Accidents
Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, take Florida school bus accidents very seriously.
School buses carry our most precious cargo – our children. We trust that school districts and municipalities will place a high priority on safety. Many do. However, school bus crashes still occur on a daily basis in Florida.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Transportation, reported between 2003 and 2012, there were 1,222 school-transportation-related crashes, resulting in 1,353 deaths. That breaks down to about 135 fatalities every year.
Most of those – about 71 percent – were occupants in other vehicles involved. About 21 percent were non-occupants, including nearby pedestrians and bicyclists (which includes students). About 8 percent of school bus-related deaths involve those onboard.
Of the 174 school-age children killed in bus crashes during the NHTSA’s analysis, 119 were pedestrians. Sixty-five percent were struck by the school bus, and 35 percent were between the ages of 5 and 7. Another 35 percent were between the ages of 8 and 13.
The Lee County’s school Transportation Department is the seventh-largest in the state. The district has over 700 school buses that transport students not just to school every day, but to numerous school-related functions, such as field trips and sporting events. Approximately 60 percent of students ride the bus regularly to commute to class. In total, buses throughout the system travel about 12 million miles a year.
About 10 years ago, the school system also established “special student” transportation services office, to help better address the transportation needs of students with disabilities.
It’s worth noting the smaller vehicles and vans sometimes used to transport students have a worse safety track record than larger vehicles.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the majority of fatal accidents involving school-age pedestrians and school buses occurs between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. and 4 p.m., the NHTSA reports. In fatal accidents where school buses were involved in a crash with other vehicles (which was more than half the time), 49 percent involved front-end collisions and 15 percent involved right-end collisions.
In single-vehicle fatal school bus crashes, the most common harmful events were:
- Striking a fixed object
- Vehicle overturning
- Person falling from the vehicle
- Collision with a non-fixed object (pedestrian, cyclists, live animal or train)
It’s true school buses are designed to be safer than passenger vehicles in preventing injury and avoiding crashes in the first place, according to the American School Bus Council. They adhere to specific crush, size and height standards, are equipped with flashing red lights and cross-view mirrors, are bright in color, have reinforced sides and have stop sign arms.
But in many cases, driver fatigue, inexperience or carelessness is cited. In some situations, drivers don’t follow traffic regulations, overload buses or may even be under the influence. In other cases, inadequate maintenance of the bus is to blame. We also can’t overlook the possibility of a faulty or defective school bus, at least as a contributing factor.
Although on the surface it may seem there is a single entity responsible for school bus crashes – the school district – there are in fact a number of potentially liable entities in these cases. Those liable may include:
- Bus driver
- Bus owner (i.e., state or local government or, in some cases, private entities)
- Company contracted to conduct bus maintenance
- Bus manufacturer or bus part manufacturer
- Florida city or county in which the accident occurred
- A negligent third party (other driver, etc.)
- In situations where the bus was owned, operated or maintained by the government, there are special rules for the statute of limitations, procedural guidelines for filing, and caps on damages.
- School buses that transport children are considered common carriers, which means they owe a heightened duty of care to passengers. What’s more, children have long been recognized by the courts as being owed special protection.
- Employers of school bus drivers must be careful to establish procedures that require operators to:
- Drive the bus with due care;
- Activate warnings, including extended stop sign and red flashing lights, anytime a student is boarding or leaving the bus;
- Make sure nearby traffic has stopped before allowing a child to get on or off the bus;
- Watch to ensure a child has safely crossed the street before boarding and after exiting.
While parents and caregivers cannot control actions of the driver or district, they can help teach their children safe practices around a bus. These include:
- Taking three big steps away from the curb when the bus approaches and line up away from the street.
- Wait until the bus stops, door opens and driver says it’s Ok before moving toward the bus.
- If you have to walk in front of the bus, take at least five giant steps in front of the bus before crossing, and make sure you can see the driver and the driver can see you.
- Never walk behind a bus.
- If you drop something near the bus, tell the bus driver.
Contact Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your rights. There are no fees or costs unless we win. Offices in Fort Myers, Cape Coral, Naples and Port Charlotte.
Call 800-646-1210 for a Free Consultation