Do We Have an Obligation to Save Lives Outside the Bus?

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The industry and the general public, through legislation, is trying desperately to install safety devices inside the bus that may save a portion of approximately 10 student lives per year, and serious injury to many more. There is an honorable effort on everyone’s part to work for what they think is better for the student. While all of this effort is probably going to save lives in the future, there is another issue that is killing and injuring many more individuals around the bus.

The issue of vehicles running into the rear of the school bus can be addressed by this industry. We have the power, and (I believe) the obligation, to prevent as many injuries and deaths at the rear of the bus as possible, without endangering the students we are charged to transport. There are a number of possibilities to accomplish this. One being the installation of an auxiliary bumper mounted under and forward of the standard bumper to prevent automobiles from submarining under the school bus so far.

There would be a number of challenges to address in the design of a lower rear crash bumper.

  • We need ground clearance, it cannot be rigid as to bottom out in the dips we drive through.
  • We cannot jeopardize the safety of the students. This improvement will not change the speed or the weight of the vehicle as it hits the bus. However, we may have the opportunity to cushion the impact for the students inside the bus, as well as directing the forces of impact to the front of the car, instead of the hood and windshield absorbing the impact.
  • There is a concern of attaching something to the rear of the bus students can latch on to. I envision this impact bumper placed forward of the standard bumper. This would make the standard bumper far easier to latch on to than this impact bumper.
  • Cost is a factor that cannot be ignored. Since strength and performance is more important than cosmetics, the appearance is a low priority. I firmly believe there is a huge payback for money spent verses lives saved, as compared to efforts applied to other areas of the school bus.

The cost of this improvement may be offset by lower insurance premiums. Insurance companies determine premiums with past history and potential risk as part of their formula. If we could decrease the risk of serious injury and death, and improve the history over time, it only stands to reason there would be an insurance premium benefit. The cost of the impact bumper is a one-time charge, the insurance premium continues for the life of the school bus.

My intent is not to legislate something that has not yet been designed, that will place greater risk to students, or to add great costs to the school bus. My intent is to create discussion among the school bus industry to determine if there is consensus we should address the issue of saving lives of the people, adults and children alike, that run into us. We are an industry that stops in the roadway more than any other. We have the greatest potential for accidents, injury, and death in this environment. We protect our cargo very well. The size of the school bus and the weight advantage over an automobile allow us to ‘win’ almost every time. The individuals that hit us, for whatever reason, drunk drivers, inattentive drivers, conscientious drivers that drive in fog or on ice, are at a disadvantage due to size, weight, and design. If we could improve the odds for those individuals, should we be proactive in promoting this potentially life saving improvement that may save scores of lives every year.

The National Standards Conference is next month. This is an excellent opportunity to address this issue.

Coughlin is the fleet maintenance director for Minneapolis Public Schools.