Are those school buses really safe?

    It’s here!  Or finally here, depending upon your perspective.  Many NW Philly kids are donning backpacks and plopping themselves onto those big yellow school buses.  For all the time we spend choosing car seats and making sure that they are buckled in safely for each and every trip, it seems grossly counter-intuitive to throw 72 elementary-aged kids onto a single bus with ONE adult and NO seat belts.  How on earth could that possibly be safe?

    Well, despite logic that screams they can’t be, school buses are actually very safe.  Safer than your car.  MUCH safer than your car.  And despite the fact that there are no seatbelts on most school buses for elementary aged children, statistically they are still THIRTEEN times safer than driving a child to school in a car.  Put simply, as a passenger, your child has a much higher risk of injury or death if they walk, ride a bike, or are driven to school.

    But how can this be?  Why are we beat over the head about using seat belts and car seats, yet school buses typically have neither?  For a start, school buses are highly visible, heavy, and BIG.  They also have trained drivers who follow the same route every day (so fewer surprises).  Surrounding drivers are typically much more aware when driving near one.  And remember those big green or black padded seats?  The lack of legroom?  That’s all part of the safety design on school buses.  School buses use a concept called “compartmentalization”, so that even in a crash, children do not move very far and are kept within a small, padded area.  It is shockingly effective for preventing serious injuries and fatalities, but it is dependent upon children knowing a few things about school bus safety:


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    1. Stay seated, legs down, facing front.  This is important because children standing up or hanging out in aisles will not be compartmentalized in a crash.


    2. Be VERY careful around the bus.  This is where the bus becomes more dangerous.  Children (and adults) are often injured being too close to the bus.  There is a danger zone ten feet around the bus.  So teach children that if they can’t see the bus driver, the bus driver can’t see them.  And train them to walk slowly up to the bus.


    3. Do not roughhouse on the bus.  This is probably the trickiest part of parenting a bus-riding child.  We’re not there when they’re on the bus, the bus driver is focusing on the task of driving, and well, the kids understand this VERY well.  I like to think of the school bus as the downfall of civilization.  So checking in with the driver, your child, and your child’s school about how things are working is an important part of keeping the bus trips safe.


    Speaking of safe… who are big yellow school buses NOT meant for?


    PRESCHOOLERS.   Since compartmentalization and school bus seats were designed for children from kindergarten through high school, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends that preschool age children (this includes children under 50 pounds) do NOT ride in regular school buses unless they have seat belts and car seats or booster seats.  The NHTSA also recommends a bus monitor on buses for very young children.  


    However your child gets to school, spend some time teaching them how to do it safely.  Here are some useful links:


    The NSC on preschoolers and school buses:


    Bus Safety Statistics from the American School Bus Council:


    School bus safety information to share with kids… this includes tips for walking to school (a topic for an upcoming post).



    How do your children get to school?  How do you keep them safe?


    Northwest Philly Parents is a partnership betweeen Newsworks and Germantown Avenue Parents.  


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