School Bus Accident Reconstruction
Traffic accidents resulting in serious injury or death to bus passengers are relatively rare events. In fact, a child is three times more likely to be killed while boarding or disembarking from a school bus than while the vehicle is moving. School buses often travel at relatively low speeds, and their height and mass provide substantial protection to bus passengers in collisions with passenger vehicles. However, the large size of coach and school buses can conversely present a substantial hazard to other motorists traveling in light weight passenger vehicles.
Serious accidents involving school buses and intercity coach buses often present several common issues:
When passengers are killed or seriously injured, the accident will often involve a high speed impact with a large truck, train, or collision with a fixed object such as a bridge abutment.
School buses are relatively stable vehicles, but may overturn under certain conditions. When overturns occur, ejections are rare, as windows and other portals are relatively small. Ejections in coach buses with large windows may be more common.
NTSB studies have concluded that serious injury and death to school bus passengers is primarily a function of seating position, and not restraint usage. Those seated nearest the impact area are at greatest risk, and the use of a lap belt restraint does not generally increase the likelihood of survival.
Lap belts are required in the manufacture of small school buses of less than 10,000 pounds gross vehicle weight. They are not required in larger school buses or intercity coach buses. However, crash test data and accident experience indicate that in frontal crashes involving changes in velocity of about 20 mph or more, lap belts often induce serious to fatal head, neck, spine, and abdominal injuries to restrained passengers, while unrestrained passengers in the same seating area receive only minor injury. Compartmentalization between padded seat backs is the preferred restraint system in frontal crashes. Therefore, the mandatory use of lap belts in school buses is required by law in only a minority of states. Although lap/shoulder belts would be a preferred restraint system, engineering difficulties and cost and maintenance considerations have hindered their introduction into buses.
When bus driver error is found to be a primary contributing factor in an accident, issues of driver selection and training, distraction by unruly passengers, and fatigue from multiple jobs and inadequate rest periods must be considered. As with most large commercial vehicles, bus drivers must employ defensive driving techniques in order to ensure that structural components of the vehicle along the driver’s line of sight do not obscure oncoming traffic.
John H. Painter, MPA, ACTAR, has been retained by both defendant and plaintiff counsel to provide expertise in school bus and coach bus traffic accident reconstruction. References and summary of expert testimony will be furnished upon request.