Get ready for a long and complicated answer to the pretty simple question, “How safe are school buses in Virginia?”

We’ll start with the good news. Buses, and the children who ride them to and from school, sporting events and extracurricular activities, crash less often than cars, trucks, motorcycles and bicycles. During the 2019-2020 school year, the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles recorded just 138 crashes involving school buses. That represents a strong safety record for the thousands of buses and bus drivers who cover millions of miles on Virginia’s streets and highways each day.

In less-welcome news, those 130-some crashes left 36 bus occupants injured. A number of crashes also injured pedestrians and people in other vehicles.

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When a crash involving a school bus does occur in Virginia, the results can be tragic. For example, a few days before we updated this article, our Virginia Beach bus accident law firm learned of a wreck just south of Richmond that sent five special needs students and two adults riding with the students to the hospital with injuries.

A pickup truck driver who lost control after running off the side of the road and overcorrecting their steering appears to have caused that collision in Chesterfield County. And that points to another set of dangers faced by students on school buses—negligent and reckless drivers behind the wheels of cars and trucks.

Everyone knows to stop for students boarding and exiting school buses, but buses spend most of their time in motion. Drivers who share the road with buses must stay in their lanes, avoid tailgating, resist distractions, remain wakeful and alert, obey traffic lights and stop signs, and exercise caution before turning, merging or passing.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration publishes these additional tips for protecting schoolkids in crosswalks, in parking lots and at bus stops:

  • When backing out of a driveway or leaving a garage, watch out for children walking or bicycling to school.
  • When driving in neighborhoods with school zones, watch out for young people who may be thinking about getting to school, but may not be thinking of getting there safely.
  • Slow down. Watch for children walking in the street, especially if there are no sidewalks in neighborhood.
  • Watch for children playing and congregating near bus stops.
  • Be alert. Children arriving late for the bus may dart into the street without looking for traffic.

Rare, But Devastating

Parents and children expect safe bus rides. Thankfully, their expectations are met more than 99 percent of time. But “almost always” is never good enough.

Head and brain injuries, broken bones, dislocations and sprains, and even burns compete with emotional trauma as the worst outcomes for children who become victims of bus crashes. The means of transportation in which they placed so much trust failed them.

When the absolute worst happens and a child dies, how can the family who lost so ever fully overcome the grief and sense of betrayal? Filing insurance claims or a lawsuit to recover medical expenses and obtain compensation for pain, suffering and other forms of noneconomic losses can offer some sense of justice. The recovery will not be complete, but holding responsible parties financially accountable matters.

EJL