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School Bus Ride Riskier for Children

Large Truck Accidents | Featured Articles

September 15 2002 - School Bus Ride Riskier for Children

School bus accidents in the tri-county area rose 44 percent since 1998, almost 21/2 times the increase statewide. Last year, 72 school buses were involved in crashes in Ingham, Eaton and Clinton counties, injuring 29 people. Although no one was killed, the trend raises questions about the safety of Michigan school children. “It surprises me that there isn’t an accident every single day,” said state Department of Education spokesman T.J. Buc holz, who hears countless reports of near collisions.

Locally and statewide, most accidents happen on smaller, less-traveled community roads. Some occur on secondary commuter routes such as Pleasant Grove Road in Lansing, others on neighborhood streets. No plans exist to build new roads to ease congestion, but there is talk of making motorists answer more questions about school buses when they take their driver’s license renewal tests. Statewide, more than 1,500 bus crashes occurred in 2001, up 18 percent since 1998. During that same period in the tri-county area, crashes rose from 50 to more than 70.

While some experts point to weather or construction as possible reasons for the rise in accidents, the majority of experts and data point to congestion and confusion.

Some drivers don’t realize that they have to stop when a bus is pulled over with its red flashers on. Driver error, however, may not be the result of bad intentions. The bus-light system can be confusing. Newer school buses have an eight-light flasher system. One set of lights flashes yellow to warn drivers the bus will stop. The other set of lights flashes red, a signal that the bus has stopped and is loading or unloading students. Older buses, however, have only red flashing lights to signal a stop, although all buses have another set of flashing yellow hazard lights.

Since 1997, the number of vehicle registrations in Michigan has risen 7.7 percent to more than 9 million, increasing the number of vehicles on area roads. At the same time, mid-Michigan’s changing lifestyle has added to traffic. The population continues to decentralize, shifting to rural communities. Ingham County’s population shrunk by almost 1 percent to about 280,000 between 1990 and 2000. Every surrounding county grew. To the east, Livingston County jumped 35.7 percent to almost 157,000 people, the fastest growth in the state. To the west, Eaton County, where Potterville is located, grew more than 11 percent to nearly 104,000 people. But Ingham still is where people find work. Although the population declined, jobs in Ingham rose 5.4 percent from 1995 to 2000, to 225,024. Pair that with census data on commuters. In Eaton County, for example, almost 29,000 people or about 28 percent of the work force hold jobs outside the county. Many of them rush to Ingham at the time Dunn and Christiansen are making their morning bus runs. The shift in lifestyles might explain why the bulk of the increase in school bus crashes is occurring on community roads, not major highways.

Road improvements aren’t keeping pace with this shift. Tri-county planners, for example, have no plans to build more roads before 2020, and they are reluctant to widen roads because area residents don’t want roads widened. “You can put up a subdivision a whole lot faster than you can improve a county road,” said Mac Dash ney, executive director of the Lansing-based Michigan Association for Pupil Transportation.

Intersections appear to be the areas that need to be addressed. An examination of Lansing School District bus crash data for the past five years shows the majority of accidents occurred at busy intersections on roads such as Mt. Hope and Waverly. Officials seeking solutions likely will have to consider that pattern of crashes, as well as growth trends and other changes in the way people live. For example, while Ingham’s population dropped, the number of households rose 5.8 percent to more than 108,000 from 1990 to 2000. More households means more trips to stores, experts say.

If traffic continues to grow, drivers may become increasingly impatient. Throughout the 1990s, the average commute time in Ingham rose from less than 18 minutes to more than 20 minutes. Solutions could come in the form of speed humps, improved signs and better intersection configurations. Before any money is spent, though, engineers would have to conduct a detailed crash study, and there is no plan for such a study.

In all large truck cases it is essential that measures be taken promptly to preserve evidence, investigate the accident in question, and to enable physicians or other expert witnesses to thoroughly evaluate any injuries. If you or a loved one is a victim of a large truck accident, call the Truck Accident Lawyers Group, Inc. now at (877) 736-4222 or CLICK HERE TO SUBMIT A SIMPLE CASE FORM. The initial consultation is free of charge, and if we agree to accept your case, we will work on a contingent fee basis, which means we get paid for our services only if there is a monetary award or recovery of funds. Don't delay! You may have a valid claim and be entitled to compensation for your injuries, but a lawsuit must be filed before the statute of limitations expires.