During the first few months of 2012, New Jersey has witnessed a number of school bus accidents that have resulted in the injury of many students and even the death of one. The frequency and severity of the accidents have led some to question current safety standards for school buses.
At least eight school bus accidents occurred in New Jersey in the first three months of the year. In February, an 11-year-old student was killed and three other students were hospitalized when a dump truck slammed into a school bus in Chesterfield, New Jersey. According to investigators, the dump truck collided with the school bus when the bus driver pulled ahead of a stop sign to get a better view of the intersection. Twenty-five elementary students were on the bus and seventeen were injured.
More recently, an SUV hit a school bus in Galloway Township, New Jersey. Thirty students were riding the bus at the time of the accident and 18 children suffered minor injuries. The SUV hit the bus as the bus attempted to complete a left turn from an intersection. The string of accidents and the number of school children put in danger have led community members to question safety practices regarding school buses. In a recent editorial, the Gloucester County Times Editorial Board suggested that school bus drivers should be retrained intermittently and that bus drivers should conduct test runs of unfamiliar routes.
Others, like the American Academy of Pediatrics, argue for seat belts to be implemented on school buses. School buses are traditionally not equipped with seat belts because of a safety concept called "compartmentalization." Compartmentalization refers to the way seats on schools buses are designed. According to bus manufacturers and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, bus seats keep children in place with narrow widths between seats and high seat backs. The NHTSA is satisfied with the safety results of compartmentalization, and the results are one reason why seat belts in school buses are not required by federal law.
Those in favor of changing safety conditions on school buses, like the AAP, say compartmentalization was the standard safety concept in the 1960's before lap and shoulder seat belts became mandatory in other highway driving vehicles.
According to the NHTSA, school buses transport 23 million students per day and the federal safety agency says school buses are safer than riding to school in a parent's car. About 800 school children are killed in car accidents during school hours every year, but only 20 of those deaths are related to school buses. The NHTSA claims an average of only five passengers are killed in school bus accidents every year, but the American Academy of Pediatrics challenges those statistics.
The AAP believes that more than 7,000 school children are treated in emergency rooms every year because of school bus accidents. In 2009, the federal government required higher seat backs to improve compartmentalization but the implementation of further safety efforts like seat belts have been left to states and school districts.