Last month, a school bus full of kids collided with a pickup truck 15 miles outside of Glasgow, Montana. The students were on their way to a field trip on Montana state history when the crash occurred. Both the school bus driver, 73-year-old Harold “Jim” Belcher, and the driver of the pickup truck, 23-year-old Julie Ann Steigler, died in the crash. Four eighth-grade students were injured along with a chaperone. It was reported by Montana Highway Patrol that Steigler crossed over the center divide, causing a head-on collision with the school bus.

School Bus Accident Fatalities

According to data from the National Highway Transportation System Administration (NHTSA), over a ten year period from 2005-2014, 106 people died either riding or driving a school bus. That is less than 11 people per year, making it one of the safest forms of transportation despite the lack of seat belts in most buses.

While passengers are rarely seriously injured or killed in school bus accidents, passenger vehicles involved in such accidents are at a much higher risk. NHTSA reported that on average 134 people die in a school bus or school related vehicle accident each year and of those, only 8% are riding in the buses. Nearly three-fourths of the fatal victims in school bus accidents are in passenger vehicles.

The story of the crash outside of Glasgow is a chilling reminder of just how important it is to be vigilant while driving, especially around large school buses.

Tips for Staying Safe When Driving Around a School Bus 

  1. Practice Patience. School buses drive slowly and make frequent stops to pick up or drop off students. It is illegal in all 50 states to drive around a school bus when it is stopped with red lights flashing. This ensures the safety of pedestrians getting on and off the bus, as well as drivers who may swerve to avoid hitting a pedestrian.
  2. Give Them Space. School buses are large heavy vehicles that make wide turns, stop frequently, and need time to make a complete stop. Never crowd a school bus on the road from any direction: front, side, or back.
  3. Drive Defensively. Aggressive driving can be especially dangerous around a school bus with slow braking and large blind spots.
  4. Never Cut Off a School Bus. Heavy vehicles take much more time and space to come to a complete stop. By cutting them off, they may be unable to stop in time before a collision.
  5. Anticipate Stops. Given the frequency of stops a school bus must make, its extremely important that drivers pay attention and anticipate stops. A distracted driver behind a school bus could end up rear-ending a bus resulting in serious injury.
  6. Only Pass If You have Plenty of Room and Clear Visibility. Passing a school bus can be a dangerous situation for both vehicles. Make sure to have enough room and visibility to safely pass. Passing on the left is legal, but passing on the right side of a school bus is illegal in all 50 states.
  7. Know That Children Can Be Unpredictable. State laws and school bus drivers do everything they can to ensure the safety of their passengers which makes riding a school bus one of the safest modes of transportation. Students can still be unpredictable pedestrians, so pay extra attention and drive slowly even after children have entered or exited the bus.

There are circumstances in which the passenger vehicle driver is involved in a devastating school bus accident to no fault of their own. The school bus driver could have been distracted, drowsy, or even under the influence. Another possible cause for a school bus accident is poor maintenance in which a mechanical error of the bus causes an accident. If you are involved in a bus accident due to no fault of your own, hiring a talented school bus accident attorney at Heenan & Cook, PLLC could help you win compensation for your injuries.

While the chances of being involved in a serious school bus accident are rare, it’s still extremely important for drivers to stay alert, be cautious, and drive safely in the presence of a bus full of children. Protect yourself and the students around you buy obeying school bus specific laws and being extra vigilant on the roads.