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School Bus Accident Attorney

School Bus Crash Lawsuits & Student Transportation Accident Settlements in Washington

A school transportation-related collision is an accident which involves, either directly or indirectly, a school bus or school-owned vehicle, or a non- bus functioning as a school bus, transporting children to or from school or school-related activities. Fatal school bus accidents usually happen on the way to school, coming home, on field trips, or are caused by motorists that pass a school bus that has stopped to load or unload school children.

The parents of children injured in school bus accidents should not try to manage injury claims without legal representation. Accident and injury cases involving school buses can be very complex (liability can be divided between manufacturer, insurer, school, and driver) and proving guilt is difficult. The potentially responsible parties will most certainly have legal representation--whether they are the school district, bus driver, the bus company, the bus manufacturer, or another third party. Lawyers can help the family receive fair and reasonable financial compensation for medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering and other damages.

If your child has been seriously injured in a school bus accident in Washington State, attorney Chris Davis and the team at Davis Law Group can help. Call Davis Law Group at 206-727-4000 to schedule a free consultation. 

Washington State School Bus Safety Regulations

fatal school bus accidentThe State of Washington’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI)’s Student Transportation group provides essential services to support the safe and efficient transportation of the students of Washington state. The office is authorized by the state legislature, WAC 392-144, to adopt the rules governing the training and qualifications of school bus drivers. In addition, the office oversees the allocation of operations funding and the school bus depreciation and replacement systems, and manages the state bidding process for school buses. Student Transportation also works closely with the Washington State Patrol on the school bus inspection program to ensure safe school buses.

The OSPI issues a number of publications that regulate school bus safety in Washington State.  These documents include:

  • Washington State School Bus Driver Handbook
  • School Bus Specifications Manual
  • School Bus Stop Violation Camera Systems Specification
  • OSPI/WSP Inspection Interpretations
  • School Bus and Traffic Safety Education Vehicle Inspection Manual

Fatal School Bus Accident Statistics

  • serious school bus crashesAn average of 20 to 25 school-age children die in school transportation-related traffic crashes each year.
  • About 16 children are fatally injured as pedestrians in the loading & unloading zone around school buses annually.
  • More school-age pedestrians have been killed between the hours of 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. than any other time of day.
  • On average, seventy-three percent (73%) of the school-age pedestrians fatally injured in crashes were struck by a school bus or a vehicle functioning as a school bus, while 27 percent were struck by a vehicle of another body type.
  • From 2004 to 2013 there were 340,039 fatal motor vehicle traffic crashes. Of those, 1,214 (0.4%) were classified as school-transportation-related.
  • From 2004 to 2013, there were 1,344 people killed in school-transportation-related crashes—an average of 134 fatalities per year. Occupants of school transportation vehicles accounted for 8 percent of the fatalities, and nonoccupants (pedestrians, bicyclists, etc.) accounted for 21 percent of the fatalities. Most (71%) of the people who lost their lives in these crashes were occupants of other vehicles involved in the crashes.
  • From 2004 to 2013, there were 116 school-age pedestrians (18 or younger) who died in school-transportation-related crashes. Sixty-two percent were struck by school buses, 5 percent by vehicles functioning as school buses, and 33 percent by other vehicles (passenger cars, light trucks and vans, large trucks, and motorcycles, etc.) involved in the crashes.

School Bus Injury Statistics

  • Between 1900 and 2000 there were more than 175 train-school bus collisions known to have occurred.
  • According to the National Safety Council, the national school bus accident rate is 0.01 per 100 million miles traveled, compared to 0.04 for trains, 0.06 for commercial aviation and 0.96 for other passenger vehicles.
  • NHTSA calculated that 4 percent of the school bus-related injuries to are serious (i.e. broken bones or worse) based on the medical community's widely accepted AIS or Abbreviated Injury Scale.
  • More than half of school bus crashes (56%) involve at least one other motor vehicle.
  • In the majority of school transportation crashes the front of the bus is the main point of impact.
  • The average school bus transports 54 student passengers.

School Bus Accident Investigation

school bus roll over accidentIdeally the school bus accident investigation should begin immediately following the crash because the memory of all involved may deteriorate over time.  Investigations are required to determine fault which may be due to failure to comply with safety regulations, policies and procedures or vehicle failure.  In addition to determining fault, one of the primary reasons to do a thorough investigation of school bus accident is to prevent future accidents of identical or similar causes.  Furthermore, accident investigations usually shine a light on ‘hidden’ safety issues that can be added to safety features and/or training in the future. 

School bus crashes are perhaps the most carefully scrutinized motor vehicle accidents. In most cases the following groups conduct their own investigations:

  • The local/responding police department.
  • The bus driver will write an on-scene “incident/accident report”.
  • The school district will most likely send a supervisor to create a “supervisor’s crash report”.
  • The bussing contractor will conduct their own investigation.
  • The attorneys representing injury victims may hire their own private investigator.
  • The insurance companies that represent any possible defendants in the case may hire their own private investigator. 
  • The lawyers representing the accident victims may hire accident reconstruction expert.
  • The insurance companies that represent any possible defendants in the case may hire their own accident reconstruction expert. 

School Bus Contractors in Washington State

  • Baumann & Sons Buses, Inc.
  • Cook Illinois Corporation
  • Dean Transportation Incorporated
  • Durham School Services
  • First Student, Incorporated
  • Harlow’s School Bus Service, Incorporated.
  • Kobussen Busses, Ltd
  • Landmark Bus
  • The TransGroup, LLC

School Bus Manufacturers

  • Blue Bird Corporation
  • IC Bus
  • Starcraft Bus
  • Thomas Built Buses, Inc.
  • Collins Industries
  • Girardin Minibus
  • Trans Tech
  • Van Con
  • Lion Bus

School Bus Types / Configurations

  • Type A – Cutaway Van - These are the smallest-sized bus typical passenger capacity ranges from 30-36 passengers.
  • Type B – Integrated - These buses are slightly larger than Type A buses but also hold from 30-36 passengers.
  • Type C – Conventional Bus– These buses are constructed from a bus body mounted on a medium duty truck chassis.  Typical passenger capacity ranges from 36-78 passengers.
  • Type D – Transit Bus – These buses are constructed from a bus body mounted to a separate chassis.  Typical passenger capacity ranges from 54-90 passengers.

Non-Conforming Vans Used For Student Transportation

Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) is a federal law passed in 2005 that prohibits nonconforming vans in school bus transportation and closes a loophole that previously only penalized dealerships from selling the vehicles to school districts.  In June 2006 a study by the National Transportation Safety Board found that a majority of states have failed to take any action in following up on SAFETEA-LU.

Student Transportation Safety Issues

  • Lack of seat-belts on school buses.
  • School bus capacity concerns.
  • Number of students per seat.
  • Driver training.
  • School bus outsourcing.

School buses are a highly regulated segment of the transportation industry-- federally at the manufacturing level (prior to actual use) and when a schoolbus is used for a field trip, and at a state level when the bus is being regularly used. States have extensive school bus regulations through motor vehicle and education laws. But school districts also apply their own policies to school bus operations.

School Bus Driver Safety Training

Certain elements of training differ for drivers of school buses and other buses. For example, school bus drivers generally receive specialized training in passenger management, loading and unloading procedures, and vehicle evacuation, as well as additional training in transporting, assisting, and monitoring special-needs children.

School Buses and Seat Belts

Although seat belts are required in certain types of school buses, the vast majority of school buses in the United States do not have seat belts and most states do not require school buses to have seat belts.  U.S. Department of Transportation and most states have determined that compartmentalization is the preferred occupant protection system.

Compartmentalization is a passive occupant protection strategy unique to school buses. Students on school buses are surrounded by a compartment of energy absorbing material -- 4-inch-thick foam seats, seat frames that bend to absorb crash forces. The idea is the crash forces will be dissipated or absorbed before they get to the student passengers. However, compartmentalization doesn't work as well in rollover crashes. 

The principle arguments in favor of mandating seat belts on all school buses is to provide protection in side impact collisions and to prevention of ejection of the child in the event of a rollover accident. 

Small buses are required by federal law to carry seat belts, and NHTSA's 2008 update to FMVSS 207, 208, 210 and 220 set standards for mandatory 3-point lap & shoulder restraints on these smaller "Type A" school buses--these smaller buses have been determined to be closer in size to automobiles and light trucks. The federal government requires a level of occupant protection similar to what it requires for automobiles and light trucks. Seat belts are not required for large school buses. NHTSA's same regulatory update said local school districts have the power to decide whether the larger Type C and Type D school buses should require seat belts.

Relevant Washington State Laws

  • "RCW 46.61.370: Overtaking or Meeting School Bus, Exceptions - Duties of Bus Driver - Penalty - Safety Cameras." Washington State Legislature. State of Washington. Web. http://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=46.61.370.
  • "Chapter 392-144 WAC: SCHOOL BUS DRIVER QUALIFICATIONS." Washington State Legislature. State of Washington. Web. http://apps.leg.wa.gov/WAC/default.aspx?cite=392-144.

Sources:

  • "NCSA School Bus Research Publications & Data Requests." National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. US Department of Transportation. Web. http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Cats/listpublications.aspx?Id=12&ShowBy=Category.
  • "Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction." Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. State of Washington. Web. http://www.k12.wa.us/.
  • "School Buses." National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. US Department of Transportation. Web. http://www.nhtsa.gov/School-Buses.
  • "School-Transportation-Related Crashes 2004-13." National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. US Department of Transportation. Web. http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/812170.pdf.
  • "A Summary of Highway Provisions in SAFETEA-LU." National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. US Department of Transportation. Web. http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/safetealu/summary.htm.