Let's put school bus safety on Santa's list

The Way I See It
By Daniela Ginta
December 3, 2018 - 3:11pm
Image Credit: Simon Hergott

A FEW DAYS AGO, a school bus carrying ten youth and two adults was involved in an accident near Cache Creek. Fortunately, everyone survived; one person had critical, but non-life-threatening injuries. That is likely why the news did not reach some people: “When was that, I did not see it in the news,” someone said to me when I mentioned the topic of today’s column.

Tragedies involving lives lost get way more attention from the media and general public and we are quicker to inquire about what can be done to prevent any others from happening. More so when kids are affected.

That no one died is a good thing — but very far from good enough. People carry a lot of trauma after a crash. They also carry hidden health issues that can affect them for years to come.

According to Statistics Canada, between 1995 and 2004, no less than 25,521 school buses were involved in collisions. The number of fatalities is low compared to car crash fatalities; for that period, five students and three school bus drivers were killed. We can sure thank the drivers for their care. Injuries on the other hand, were a different story: 3,427 school bus passengers and 980 school bus drivers injured. Needless to say, serious injuries can stay with a person for a long time or for life.

The latest on the cause of the Cache Creek crash was that the bus swerved to avoid another car on the road. Was it distracted driving caused by the cell phone, alcohol, tiredness or drug impairment, or a medical condition that caused the other car to pose a threat? No word on it yet. When and if we do find out, what will change?

The stories of school bus crashes often end up with a resolution such as ‘the driver of the vehicle that caused the crash was charged, etc.’ Past justice being served – which is often disputable, unfortunately. What can be done to increase the safety of young passengers and their drivers?

Truth is, car safety has come a long way, and so has knowledge about what keeps us safe on the road. But, at the same time, drivers are rushed, often paying less attention to the road than they should, checking phones too often, or getting behind the wheel while intoxicated. Most people if not all know what it takes to drive safely but many choose to take their chances and increase the risk for others, too.

I have never been involved in a serious car crash. The scariest yet was being driven into by a driver who did not stop at a red light. Luckily, he was not driving fast and I managed to swerve my car to avoid a worse crash. He was a nice person, shaken by the incident and apologizing profusely. I counted my lucky stars (also that I was alone in the car), but thought about it often. What if he was going full speed? What if another car was coming right then from the opposite direction?

I know people who have escaped with their lives following serious crashes (not their fault). They are still plagued by those accidents, physically or psychologically, or both. I cannot imagine what it is like for children or youth who go through it. The unseen part of a crash is a painful one for the people involved in it and their families. Injuries that are critical even when non life-threatening will linger and hurt and often change lives for good.

It is heartbreaking to hear of yet another car crash (British Columbia saw six fatal crashes this weekend) and horrifying to hear of school buses being involved. The responsibility on the shoulders of school bus drivers is immense, and so is the trust of parents who put their kids on buses. The low number of fatalities — not zero though! — points to school buses being one of the safest ways to transport children. Still.

At this point in time, you will agree if I say that seatbelts on school buses are overdue. I am not sure how expensive it would be to install them on existing buses, but life is priceless, so that makes math easy. Reminding all drivers to think safety when they get behind the wheel is a good thing and necessary. Risky, careless drivers will always exist ,unfortunately. Safeguarding our children through all means necessary becomes a must.

We assume risks when getting on the road alongside other drivers; that is the nature of the game. Kids have no choice of making themselves safer while on school buses unless we make it happen that way. Before anything else, seatbelts will do.