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HealthWatch: School Bus Safety Revisited


On November 21st, six children died and five sustained critical injuries in a terrible Chattanooga, Tennessee school bus crash. Once again, grown-ups failed to protect children.

While investigation of this tragedy continues, it is already clear that fatalities and injuries could have been avoided if the school bus provider, Durham School Services, had used newer school buses with lap/shoulder belts.  And, the crash itself could have been avoided had Durham School Services and the school district itself done a better job of vetting their school bus driver.

Let me remind our Irvine, Tustin and other Orange County readers that California is the only State in the nation that requires all school buses manufactured after 2005 to be equipped with lap/shoulder belts — no exceptions.  As pediatricians, we have known for years that the prevailing occupant protection method called “compartmentalization” —  closely-spaced padded seats with high seat backs — is inadequate.  Children literally fly out of the “compartment” and are at high risk for ejection in the event of sudden stops, turns, swerves or side-impact crashes.

As parents, grandparents, health professionals and conscientious citizens, what can we do to better protect our school children?

  • Contact School District officials at Irvine Unified School District (IUSD) and Tustin Unified School District (TUSD) to make sure your School District’s contract with a school bus provider includes a requirement — fully enforced — that all vehicles deployed to our schools are newer buses manufactured after 2005, and equipped with lap/shoulder belts.
  • Make sure your children — and all children riding in school buses — are instructed to “buckle-up.”
  • If a young child uses a booster seat or car seat in your own car, that seat can be used in buses with lap/shoulder belts.
  • Insist in all contracts with school bus providers that these firms use the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines: School Transportation Safety, 2007.

The contract school bus provider for TUSD (which includes four schools in Irvine) is First Student.  In IUSD, the provider is the same national firm, Durham School Services, involved in the Tennessee school bus tragedy.

A final fact to think about:  School bus safety — including the use of lap/shoulder restraint systems — is not only essential to save lives; it will dramatically reduce the number of children injured in school buses.  Remarkably, each year a reported 17,000 children across the country are treated in emergency rooms for injuries sustained in school bus mishaps.

Phyllis Agran, MD, MPH, FAAP
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