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Just how safe is the school bus for your kids?

It's back to school time. Like everything else that involves your children, sending them off to school in the morning can make you feel like the world's most emotionally unstable person.

You are excited watching them grow, learn, explore and find their independence. Of course, all of those same things make you worry about them every moment of every day - particularly when it comes to their safety.

What is the safest way to travel to school?

Your kids have to get to school, and you have a number of ways to get them there. Which one is the safest?

  • Are you going to take them yourself? Putting them in the back seat of your own car leaves you with the most control. You know they have their seatbelt on. You know that the driver is going to pay attention. The only thing you cannot control are the other drivers, which is a risk every time anyone gets behind the wheel.
  • Are you going to walk them to school? Pedestrian travel is one of the most dangerous options, and one that is getting worse, not better, according to the most recent data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). When most accidents stats were trending down, pedestrian deaths increased across the nation in 2013.
  • Are you going to send them on the bus? A single news report about a serious or fatal accident involving a school bus will pull at the heart strings of any parent, making them think twice about their own children's safety. Although it should be the case, it might be surprising to know that very few fatal accidents involve school buses.

How often do school bus accidents happen in Montana?

Governing magazine compiled a list of all fatal school bus accidents that occurred across the nation in the years 2005 through 2014. Nationwide, 83 accidents occurred in which one or more persons were killed in a school-transportation-related collision.

Two of those accidents happened in Montana. The first occurred in Yellowstone County in 2008, resulting in the death of a 7-year-old passenger. The child was not wearing a seatbelt. The second occurred in McCone County in 2010, taking the life of the 70-year-old bus driver who was wearing his seatbelt at the time.

Only 1 state currently requires full seatbelts on school buses

The child from the 2008 accident wasn't wearing a seatbelt at the time, and there is no way to tell from the data if one was available or if it contributed to the fatal injuries. Does that matter? Should our kids have the safety of a belt anyway?

Linked in the same online report, the magazine also wrote about seatbelt laws. As of February 2016, only the state of California required all new school buses to install safety belts that stretch across the child's lap and shoulder. A few other states require less restrictive (or less safe?) belts, but Montana isn't one of them.

For years, the NHTS took the position that seat belts were not necessary for school-bus safety. In 2015, the agency changed its opinion. Should Montana get moving?

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Towe & Fitzpatrick, PLLC
619 SW Higgins, Ste. O
P.O. Box 1745
Missoula, MT 59806

Phone: 406-203-5148
Phone: 406-829-1669
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