School Bus Safety

Today, in NJ, there was a tragic traffic accident on I-80. A dump truck and a school bus filled with 5th graders on a field trip collided, and it resulted in the death of one child and one teacher.

While it will take a while for the State Police to determine who was at fault, the one thing that is clear is that the construction of that school bus was incredibly deficient, because when the school bus impacted a guard rail, the entire body of the bus separated from the vehicle’s frame.

Is this typical of how school buses are built by the companies that assemble them?


I’ve never heard of this happening.
My first reaction is that there’s something wrong with the design, but without knowing a whole lot more it’s impossible to say. I also have no idea how a schoolbus is constructed, or even if there’s a standard design or different manufacturers use different designs.

The Department of Transportation (D.O.T.) regulates all Over-The-Road vehicles. When I worked for a company designing and making tank trucks, we had numerous requirements we had to meet, and numerous tests we needed to perform. Every truck needed to be certified for compliance. I have to believe schoolbusses have the same. Of course, knowing how our regulatory systems work, they’re probably exempt!

I just plain don’t know enough about it. But it needs to be thoroughly investigated both for cause and for design. Our kids deserve better than this.

I was a trucker for 40 years and a school bus driver for 15. School Bus Construction is MORE closely regulated than truck construction. They have to meet federal and state requirements and in NY are inspected twice yearly by state inspectors. That the body of the bus survived more or less intact in a crash so violent as to tear it from the frame and a very large majority of the people onboard lived is a testament to the strength of the body.

Preliminary reports are indicating the the driver missed his or her exit and was making an illegal U-turn on an expressway.

I would be more focused on that as what needs to be addressed, rather than the construction of the bus.

There is a huge shortage if school bus drivers in this country and a big push by school districts to save money by turning to for profit companies to save money and avoid hiring and training their own drivers. The savings are short term, once you get rid of your fleet, the for profit companies hike their rates.

The shortage is caused by almost all the jobs being part time, have much unpaid training to qualify for, have huge legal responsibility, and don’t pay all that well.

Our state legislators have made the bus driver legally responsible for the reasonable behavior of the students. One our drivers was driving a bunch of delinquents on a field trip to a state park. When I say delinquents, I am talking about students that have been kicked out of regular classes and off the regular school buses. On the way back to school these kids mugged one of their classmates and threw his jacket out the window on the I-290 causing a driver in a car to swerve and crash. Even though the teacher and his aide were on the bus, the driver was issued a ticket for failing to control the students while she was driving 55 mph.

Part of the problem could be solved by making these jobs full time with benefits by using the drivers in the time in between runs as building and grounds, or cafeteria workers.

Wgen there is a big shortage of workers you wind up employing so,e people you shouldn’t.

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That has been confirmed by multiple witnesses. The fact that the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office is involved in the investigation is probably not a good thing for the bus driver, because under NJ law, he could be tried for manslaughter.

That the body separated from the frame may be more a function of the bus hitting the end of the guard rail head on than poor design or construction.

Really hard to say if there’s a defect in the bus. It could even be possible that the separation saved lives because some of the energy of the crash went into ripping the body off of the chassis rather than going into the kids.

At any rate, school buses can only be made so safe. It’s pretty hard to achieve 100% survivability against being slammed into by a dump truck which appears to have been carrying a load. We’re talking tens of thousands of pounds slamming into an almost stationary object if the U-turn allegation is true.

That the bus protected its occupants well enough so only 2 people died is actually pretty amazing.

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That is probably due–at least in part–to NJ’s regulation that all school buses must be equipped with lap belts, and that students wear those belts.

From the internet:
Federal law requires smaller school buses – those weighing 10,000 pounds or less – to have lap-shoulder belts, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. School buses above that weight are not mandated to provide seat belts for passengers.

States or local jurisdictions, however, are free to pass stricter regulations.

Seven states – Arkansas, California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York and Texas – have passed some variation of a seat belt law for larger school buses (even if funding had not been appropriated in all cases), notes the National Conference of State Legislatures.

I believe, per passenger mile, school buses are one of the safest vehicles on the road. I don’t know much about today’s buses, but the school buses I rode in the late 1940s through the mid 1950s were on truck chassis. In the rural school I attended, the driver owned the bus and bid on the route with the school district. Often, when a bus was removed from service due to age, the body was removed from the chassis, a cab was purchased from a wrecking yard and installed along with a grain bed. The body that was removed became a chicken coop or a tool shed. I remember buses at our school on Chevrolet, Ford, International, GMC and Studebaker truck chassis with bodies made by Wayne, Superior, Carpenter and Hicks. I am sure that has changed today.
I also remember in the early 1950s that turning signals and stop lights had to be installed on buses. Up to that point, the only signal was a lone, unlit stop arm on the left side of the bus. The buses I rode had vacuum wipers and no power assist on either the brakes or steering. However, we didn’t have any accidents in my district.
I don’t think it is the modern school buses that are unsafe. It is the drivers and the lack of discipline of the children riding the buses.

Well as usual the real question is why there are so many buses now? I think it all started some 20-30 years ago from a court ruling that required busing kids all over town so there was a proper mix of skin colors. Then I think it grew so that everyone now gets a ride to and from school. I’m amazed at our local school busing budget and I watch kids getting rides that are only a mile away from school. In the old days it was only the kids that lived in the rural areas that got a ride on a bus. So at any rate demand went up and the quality of the drivers went down accordingly.

Man i’ll do anything to get out of waxing the cars. Gotta go.

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And in the old days, you lived on average at least 10 years less, in poorer health, with fewer modern amenities, driving cars that couldn’t even get to 100,000 miles without needing replacement and which were equipped with spears for steering columns that were just waiting to skewer you through the heart if you got into a wreck.

You had your school day interrupted by drilling for The Bomb (drills that taught techniques that would do precisely squat to enhance your survivability), your mom was a pariah if she tried to get a job - especially one that wasn’t “woman’s work,” and by the way if you had the “wrong” skin color then people with the “right” skin color made your life hell.

Oh, and gasoline was laced with lead, the side of the road was laced with DDT, and every time you hit the brakes you spewed asbestos into the air.

I’m all for modernity. The rose-tinted nostalgia for the considerably-worse past is nothing but fantasy.


The reason there are so many buses is that we are much more risk averse than we were 60 years ago. My kids were in grade school 20 years ago, and the number of buses was the same as today. You have to go back much farther. If a child has to cross a busy road, they get a bus. It used to be that there were one or two bus stop per neighborhood, but today, there are many more. It seems that school buses stop at each street corner rather than have the kids walk 50 feet to the next intersection. When I was in high school, I had to walk 0.9 miles to school along a busy road without a sidewalk. It didn’t bother me, but that would never happen today. There would be a bus because of the busy road.

Today, at least in my area, there is a demand that the buses pick up kids in font of their houses, even if the houses are maybe 50-75 yards away from each other…in subdivisions, not busy streets by any means.

There are also far more people in the country today. A huge increase in the population necessitates a huge increase in the busses.


I am not certain how much has changed from the good old days. When I rode the school bus in the late 1940s through them mid 1950s, we stopped at every house no matter how close together the houses. There was an addition of houses and we y stopped at every house. There was a kid that lived 100 yards from the school and he had to ride the bus.
What has changed in my area is school closing because of bad weather. Our country school didn’t close. Our bus got stuck just after picking up a high school girl. She was about 5’ 3" tall and may have weighed 100 pounds. She calmly got off the bus, got her Dad’s Farmall tractor out of the barn, hooked on to the front of the bus and pulled the bus free. We waited while she put the tractor back in the barn and proceeded to school. I also remember coming home from school and one kid on the bus spotted a Texas Longhorn in a pasture. Nobody in East Central Indiana had a Longhorn. Our beef cattle were Herefords. The driver immediately stopped the bus and we all got out to look at the Longhorn. This was a big event.

If you don’t like school buses you’l love California. I haven’t seen a regular school bus in years. There are the short buses for the handicapped kids, but in the wealthy San Francisco suburbs there are none that I see for regular kids. The traffic jams around suburban schools every morning and afternoon are incredible, and the driving by parents is beyond belief.

@Triedaq I’ll bet she has been a great wife.

The latest update on that tragic school bus accident reveals that the bus driver is 77 years old, and that he has a long record of driving violations. The violations apparently occurred before he began driving a school bus, but–of course–that leads to the question of how carefully the school district vetted his driving record.

The most shocking part of the update is that his attempted illegal U-turn on I-80 involved driving in a perpendicular fashion, directly from a right-lane entry ramp, across 3 lanes of high speed traffic.


I think that’s part of it…but I also think there actually IS more risk. There are now 5 times as many cars on the road that can go much faster (and they do). Road safety for pedestrians hasn’t improved that much during that time. My school district was one of the last to start bussing. There was no increase in busses, or kids bussed in our school district. Different routes.

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I think the article is asking the wrong question. The problem here isn’t that the guy is old, it’s that he’s an idiot and has been for decades, seeing as the first of his 14 license suspensions was in 1975. In fairness, most of those suspensions were non-driving related (though the last one listed, which was for driving on a suspended license, points to the idea that this guy just doesn’t give a hoot about rules), but that said, I’m willing to bet none of us here have had our license suspended even once, for any reason, much less 14 times.