LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Records show that the state's 10,000 school buses are involved in hundreds of incidents each year, ranging from major wrecks to simple scrapes with a mailbox. However, officials and advocates say buses remain one of the safest ways to get kids to school.
The images of smashed school buses on the evening news and in morning newspapers can make that seem difficult to believe. In October, two preschoolers died when their school bus overturned in Carrollton, and an investigation remains under way. A month earlier, 48 Louisville middle school students were whisked to hospitals after their bus was hit and flipped on its side.
There was an average of 1,434 school bus incidents per school year in Kentucky from 2007-2008 to 2010-2011, according to an Associated Press analysis of data provided by the Kentucky Department of Education. The state broadly tracks "incidents," which can include anything from a fatal wreck to a bus simply hitting a mailbox.
The high was 1,584 in 2009-2010; the low a year later at 1,343.
During that time, two students riding buses were killed.
Daniel Wood, 16, died the morning of May 1, 2008, when the school bus he was riding was hit by a dump truck that crossed the center line on a rural, two-lane highway in Falmouth. Ten other Pendleton County students, including Wood's younger brother and sister, were injured. Improvements were made to the road six months later.
In May 2011, 6-year-old Logan Simpson died in Carlisle County when the bus he was riding back to school from a field trip swerved off a rural, two-lane highway and rolled over several times. Simpson and his classmates — 20 people were injured — had been returning from a day of swimming to celebrate reaching their reading goals. Driver Anita Roach spent 22 days in jail after her conviction on a reckless homicide charge.
The records reveal that during the period there were 20 serious injuries to students or school staff riding a school bus and hundreds of minor injuries.
Although parents tend to worry about darkness and wet roads, a school bus in Kentucky was more likely to be involved in an incident during the afternoon on a two-lane road under clear skies with dry road conditions, the records show.
"I don't find it surprising," said Lisa Gross, spokeswoman for the Kentucky Department of Education, "because the majority of the time that buses are on the road, it's daytime. And there's probably an increase in other traffic in the afternoon. Most bus routes would travel two-lane roads."
Kentucky's school districts are required to submit an annual report tallying school bus incidents to the department. Gross said local districts use the data to identify potential problems and may ask the state agency to intervene if necessary.
"Some roads and streets may be difficult for large buses to maneuver," Gross said, "and that informs the training and updates that are provided to bus drivers. School districts may use this information when they are designing routes, too."
The drivers involved were likely female between the ages of 51 and 60 with more than 10 years of experience, according to the records.
The overwhelming majority of accidents involved the school bus and another moving vehicle, according to the data. About half as many incidents each year involve buses colliding with fixed objects such as parked vehicles, utility poles, mailboxes, guardrails, buildings, trees, signs, curbs and embankments.
The U.S. Department of Transportation says school buses are the safest way to transport students to and from school.
Ronna Weber, executive director of the National School Transportation Association, an industry trade group, said school buses are required to meet "the most stringent safety standards of any vehicle on the road today."
School buses have reinforced sides, high resistance to roof crushes, better mirror visibility and highly trained drivers, according to the American School Bus Council.
Weber said children are almost 50 times safer riding in a school bus than driving themselves or with a teen driver, and almost eight times safer than traveling in the cars of parents or guardians.