From an accident perspective, government regulatory agencies as well as researchers, insurance companies, and personal injury lawyers for bus crash victims tend to divide the subject of “bus crashes” into two areas: first, the larger commercial bus or “motorcoach” that carries people around their town or metro area, or those that travel across the country (think Greyhound); and second, the yellow and black school bus that transports our children to and from school, and school activities.
Bus Types: Commercial Buses or Motorcoaches, and School Buses
Why? Commercial buses and school buses are handled differently under the law: they have different safety requirements. This has been true for many years, and for several reasons including the fact that school buses serve a different purpose and are used differently than commercial buses like Greyhound charters or those large chartered motorcoaches driving Hoosiers to visit casinos in Vegas or Reno.
The traditional perspective of school buses is that they are a safe method of transporting children from their home, through their neighborhood streets, to their local school or stadium, and back again.
Whether or not it’s a legitimate distinction, to treat school bus safety differently from other large buses, is another issue. School bus crashes are far from rare in our part of the country. See, for example, our July 2013 blog post entitled, “Four Serious Bus Crashes In The News This Week: How Dangerous Is It For You Or Your Kids To Ride On A Bus?”
For instance, a new federal regulation has been issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for motorcoaches. Under this new federal requirement, seat belts will be required by law for both commercial bus drivers and bus passengers. These will be the same kind of safety belts you wear now in the front seat of your car or SUV (extending over your lap and shoulder). See, 49 CFR 571. This is a legal requirement for motorcoaches and commercial buses.
School buses were excluded from the debate and drafting of the regulation; school buses were considered to be a different type of transportation to be dealt with differently.
Many argue that kids should be required to buckle up on their school bus. Whether or not that will happen in Indiana and Illinois will be mandated by a separate state or federal regulation.
Why Do Bus Accidents Happen? Are School Buses and Motorcoaches That Different?
Data has been collected for years, both by transportation authorities for the State of Indiana and the State of Illinois, as well as the federal government, regarding bus accidents in our part of the country in order to learn why the bus crash happened and how future, similar accidents can be prevented. For more statistical information, please refer to the “2015 Pocket Guide to Large Bus and Truck Statistics,” published by the Office of Analysis, Research, and Technology of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation.
From all these years of study, as well as our own experience representing bus crash victims and their families, we know that people get hurt in bus accidents because of a crash caused by one of the following factors, usually:
- Hazards or dangers on the road itself (including ice and snow);
- Impaired visibility due to weather (such as fog, stormy conditions, darkness);
- Bus mechanical failure caused by shoddy maintenance and repair;
- Bus mechanical failure due to defective product (e.g., blown tire, failing brakes, etc.);
- Impaired condition of the driver, including driving drunk or driving under the influence of drugs (including common OTC cold and flu remedies); and
- Driver operating the bus carelessly or recklessly (driver error).
When considering these reasons for serious bus accidents, one has to wonder why school buses should be treated differently than commercial motorcoaches. After all, we have discussed school bus drivers involved in bus crashes where they were under the influence of drugs, as well as school bus drivers who may have had some kind of mechanical failure, resulting in a bus crash. Nevertheless, safety standards for commercial motorcoaches are much more stringent than those currently placed upon our local school buses.
Responsibility for a Bus Crash: Who Is Liable?
Whenever there is a bus accident where someone is hurt, it’s going to result in personal injury claims needed to cover the expenses and costs of the treatment and recovery from that bus crash. Bus crash victims may suffer broken bones, fractures, spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injuries, concussions, and more. People can die in a bus crash, resulting in a wrongful death claim. And there is the emotional aftermath of being involved in a serious bus accident: emotional trauma and mental anxiety suffered by bus accident victims, particularly young children, which cannot be disregarded here.
After the crash, it may be that there isn’t just one person or one factor that bears sole responsibility for what happened. The cause of the bus accident may be complicated. Investigation into the bus accident, whether it is a school bus crash or an accident involving a commercial bus or motorcoach, may find that more than one party is at fault, such as:
- The driver of the bus;
- The company responsible for maintaining the bus (repair, upkeep);
- The manufacturer of the parts or equipment that failed;
- Other drivers involved in the accident (particularly in rear-end or domino-effect accidents);
- The owner of the bus, or bus company (including the school district or government agency as owner of the bus).
Injury in a Bus Crash in Indiana or Illinois is a Real Danger
People, including small children and teen-aged students, as well as travelers, tourists, and commuters, are involved all too often in serious bus accidents in our part of the country. Commercial buses and motorcoaches are regulated more than school buses, and yet any kind of bus brings with it the danger of being involved in a traffic accident where passengers are injured, sometimes severely.
Especially during the winter months in Indiana and Illinois, we put our loved ones onto a school bus, large bus or motorcoach and depend upon that bus driver and bus company (or school district) to take care of our loved ones and return them back safely to us. Sometimes that does not happen, and when that bus accident is caused by the negligence or neglect of the bus operators, then justice is demanded for those bus crash victims. Be careful out there!