With panoramic/wraparound windshields lying against the front plane, sun visors, tinted windshields, crossover and parabolic mirror systems, ergonomic driver compartments with tilting/telescopic steering columns and pneumatically-adjustable seats, video surveillance cameras and motion detection sensors - much less corrective lenses, sunglasses, annual vision examinations, and continual improvements in headlamps - one would think that bus drivers could see and react to large objects appearing directly in front of their vehicles. But, as many jurors learn, one would be wrong.
Comparing their relative safety to that of other vehicles, a number of motorcoach features come immediately to mind: Mass, monocoque construction pneumatic suspension, and fully-padded, forward-facing seats. Yet incidents like these still occur:
The previous article in this series emphasized the importance of transportation professionals selecting bus stops instead of students or their parents doing so. Regardless, while plenty of tools are available to help, the critical tool for evaluating and approving safe bus stops is a live Earthling.
In the last installment (STN, Jun, 2007), I stressed the importance of distinguishing between an actual bus stop and the waiting area across the street from it in terms of safety. But the selection of the stop and waiting area also involves concerns for student security. Sometimes, there are trade-offs that must be made. These trade-off are often complex and subtle. But they must be made correctly.
In those rare instances where the safety of transportation modes can be compared statistically, bus riders fare several decimal points better than bicycle riders. The risks associated with motorcycles are "off the charts." The Figure below illustrates these comparisons for "home-to-school" trips - trips that comprise 15 percent of all transit trips and 96 percent of all schoolbus trips.
Every responsible society has mechanisms to hold its citizens, and their organizations, accountable for their actions. With respect to safety, our society effects this goal through the enactment and enforcement of statutes and regulations, and through the process of civil litigation. As with most rules and most societies, many of our transportation organizations have discovered loopholes. Employing these loopholes, they have effectively reduced their liability exposure at the cost of compromising safety.
Unlike those of many transit systems, schoolbus stops are not always identified with signage - at either the precise position of the stop or signage indicating that a schoolbus stop is approaching (the black glyph on yellow background). Rarely is the stop zone itself marked (for example, by red-lining the curb). In particular, the failure to mark the stop's precise positioning can be problematic - and occasionally dangerous.
As pressure from the unknowing continues to mount, rumors have it that the U.S. motorcoach industry is slowly inching toward the installation of seatbelts. That we are doing so by skipping the decades of seat compartmentalization that has helped fend off most seatbelt advocates in the schoolbus industry is only more unfortunate since existing motorcoach seats lend themselves to a far more evolved form of compartmentalization than the "incomplete compartmentalization" (in NHTSA's own words) of their yellow body-on-chassis cousins.