School buses are still safe vehicles

Friday, May 30, 2003

Dear Tom and Ray: Boy, am I disappointed! I really enjoy you guys, and I always thought you knew a lot about cars. (Since I know next to nothing about cars, this is a leap of faith on my part.) But after reading your recent column, my faith is badly shaken. However much you know about cars, you clearly know next to nothing about school buses. I, on the other hand, know a lot about school buses and am willing, for the good of your readers, to enlighten you.

Tom, you are dead wrong, 180 degrees wrong, absolutely wrong, couldn't-be-wronger wrong that "school buses are among the least-safe vehicles on the road."

In fact, every organization that keeps statistics, from the National Safety Council to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to the National Academy of Sciences, says that school buses are the SAFEST vehicles on the road. It's true that school buses are used primarily for slow-speed, short, local trips, but that's not what they are "designed" for. They are designed to protect passengers. The federal safety standards that are unique to school buses ensure that in a crash the roof doesn't collapse, the body doesn't come apart at the joints, the fuel tank isn't ruptured and the passengers aren't ejected or injured by interior surfaces. Now, I grant you that a school bus doesn't handle like a sports car -- or like a sedan, for that matter -- but there are a lot of petite bus drivers who manage them quite well, thank you.

I agree with your final advice. Raz and his friends would no doubt be better off chartering a bus with a professional driver than trying to ferry themselves, no matter how safe the vehicle is.

Robin Leeds, Regulatory Liaison, National School Transportation Association

Ray: We've been deluged by mail from school-bus companies basically saying the same thing -- that school buses are the safest vehicles on the road.

Tom: But in our defense, the guy who wrote to us -- Raz -- was asking about buying an old school bus. Innovations like automatic transmissions, power steering, ABS and the like have only become common in the past decade or so. So any bus he was likely to buy would handle much worse than the newer buses that are now in common use.

You are correct, Robin. As school transportation, driven by trained drivers, school buses are indeed extraordinarily safe.

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