The Safety and Wellbeing of Our Children: School Bus Accidents in Brooklyn
As parents in a hectic 21st century world, in our efforts to take care of our children and give them a more comfortable life, our careers can be very time-consuming. This means that even if we wanted to, we cannot always personally take our children to where they need to go. Not only to and from school, but to summer camp, school trip locations, team meetings and competitions. This is a typical predicament for parents in an active city like Brooklyn. Thankfully, our city’s public and private schools recognize just how busy parents can be and offer us the services of school buses.
However, despite the saving grace that school bus transportation can provide, as parents, it is our responsibility to be acutely aware of the possible dangers associated with this mode of transportation. Considering the recent horrific accident involving a school bus and motor vehicle on the eastbound Brooklyn Belt Parkway, it is even more important to understand the elements of a safe school bus, the possible risks and injuries associated with this mode of transportation, and what to do in case of an accident. The safety and wellbeing of your children is our utmost concern at the Law Offices of Irene H. Gabo, Esq., where our Brooklyn school bus accident attorneys can assist you with your case and any questions you might have.
The Elements of a Safe School Bus
A school bus is one of the safest and most regulated methods of transportation available, and according to the United States Department of Transportation, accounts for less than 1% of all traffic fatalities. Despite this, we must familiarize ourselves with what makes a school bus safe to understand whether your child’s school bus is up to standards. There are very specific requirements for a school bus to conform to, pertaining to the design of the bus, qualifications of the driver, and the presence of a matron.
Bus Design and Inspections
The bright yellow coloring and generally the large size of a school bus are purposeful design choices, meant to prevent any visibility issues on the road. There are also cross-view mirrors and flashing red headlights and taillights to signal the bus slowing down and stopping. The flashing red stop-sign arms on the side of the school bus are an important safety feature as well – they are a signal to drivers that they must stop and cannot under any circumstances attempt to pass the bus.
The design of a school bus also incorporates safety features that become apparent in case of an accident. There is protective seating, which means that seats are designed for energy-absorption. In the occurrence of an accident, the seat backs absorb the forces from the crash. Depending on the size of the school bus, compartmentalization may be a safety feature as well. Larger school buses utilize compartmentalization – this means that seats are very close together and act as cushioning barriers for the passengers. If there is compartmentalization present, seatbelts are not a necessity for the school bus. Smaller school buses, on the other hand, cannot utilize compartmentalization efficiently and are required to provide lap/shoulder belts.
Another very important component of school bus safety is regular inspection. School buses can be owned privately or by the city, depending on whether your child attends private or public school. According to the New York State Department of Transportation, “vehicles transporting passengers under the age of 21 years, to and from schools, for hire, or owned and/or operated by school districts or any public or private school” are required to be inspected at least every 6 months. It is incredibly important for these inspections to occur at regular intervals, not only because the safety of children is on the line, but because technical issues that can lead to an accident are easily preventable. An accident can happen at any time, but negligence regarding the upkeep of a school bus is unacceptable and can lead to a plethora of unintended consequences.
Vetting Process and Driving Record
Another important component of school bus safety is the vetting process through which the driver was hired and his/her driving record. Considering the shortage of workers that we are experiencing nation-wide and in Brooklyn, we must ask ourselves what standards school bus drivers are being held to. This is not to say that they are not being properly vetted or have an excellent record, but it is important to note that, at the moment, many businesses are desperate for workers. In their desire to keep the business operating, some employers may forget their common sense and ethics. In the case of school bus management and safety, this is not only entirely unacceptable, but endangers the lives of children.
As an extra layer of precaution, it may be sensible to make sure that your child’s bus driver was properly vetted and has a good driving history. It may also be helpful to communicate with the matron of the school bus and ask how safe they feel with the bus driver. Does he/she experience road rage? Does he/she speed? Is he/she easily distracted from the road by the children? How is his/her temperament when children misbehave and how does he/she handle it?
The Presence of a Matron
A matron, or school bus attendant, is an individual that has many roles in ensuring the safety of children on their school bus commute to and from home. They are responsible for making sure the children are buckled and spaced apart in the seats to, in the case of an accident, prevent them from colliding with each other. They must make sure that the children are behaving properly on the bus – staying seated, not running through the aisles or fighting with other children, and keeping their voices at an appropriate volume to avoid distracting the bus driver. Matrons maintain the cleanliness on the bus and must report any changes in the bus schedule/route to the family members bringing or picking their children up. They must also report any incidents or conflicts a child may have gotten into while on the bus and under their watch.
A matron is an incredible asset to school bus safety because they are actively engaged in watching the children and making sure that they are not being put or putting each other in a position to be hurt. They are an excellent resource for parents looking to understand the conditions and conduct on their child’s school bus.
Range of At-Fault Parties and VTL Section 1174(a)
In a school bus accident, there is a wide array of parties that could be at fault and held responsible. For example, a bus driver or matron may be at fault, if in failing to meet their obligations or abide by New York State laws, they create a dangerous and accident-inducing scenario for the children. A school bus accident could just as easily be caused by a passing motorist, who might have behaved negligently or disregarded New York State Vehicle and Traffic Laws (VTL). It is extremely important for both motorists and bus drivers to be aware of these laws and diligently follow them.
New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law Section 1174(a) states: “The driver of a vehicle upon a public highway, street or private road upon meeting or overtaking from either direction any school bus marked and equipped as provided in subdivision twenty of section three hundred seventy-five of this chapter which has stopped on the public highway, street or private road for the purpose of receiving or discharging any passengers, or which has stopped because a school bus in front of it has stopped to receive or discharge any passengers, shall stop the vehicle before reaching such school bus when there is in operation on said school bus a red visual signal as specified in subdivision twenty of section three hundred seventy-five of this chapter and said driver shall not proceed until such school bus resumes motion, or until signaled by the driver or a police officer to proceed. For the purposes of this section, and in addition to the provisions of section one hundred thirty-four of this chapter, the term “public highway” shall mean any area used for the parking of motor vehicles or used as a driveway located on the grounds of a school or of a board of cooperative educational services facility or any area used as a means of access to and egress from such school or facility.”
At the Law Offices of Irene H. Gabo Esq., we are familiar with the Vehicle and Traffic Laws of New York and requirements bus drivers and the other vehicles around them need to follow. Call us for a free consultation at 800-560-0214.
Common Accidents Involving School Buses
According to a School Bus Safety study conducted by the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, the most common type of accident involving school buses is a student being struck by a passing motorist. Young children aged 4-8 are particularly at risk, as their smaller size makes them more difficult for motorists to spot. In addition to that, because they are so small, young children cannot see above or around their surroundings. Regardless, children do not hold the responsibility to be vigilant in these situations – it is entirely in the hands of surrounding motorists.
The most common causes for students being struck by motorists, according to the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, are as follows:
Motorists attempt to pass the bus, saying they do not have the time to wait.
Motorists claim they couldn’t see the flashing red warning lights, either because they were dirty and therefore muddled, or because weather conditions, such as sun, fog, snow, or rain, blinded them.
Motorists claim that the bus driver waved them ahead and allowed them to pass the school bus. Even if that is the case, it is the motorist’s responsibility to stay vigilant in these circumstances.
The motorist demonstrates a disregard for the law and/or children’s safety and did not stop for the flashing red warning lights.
In New York State, it is “illegal for drivers to pass a school bus while the school bus is stopped for the purpose of dropping off or picking up passengers and the red lights on the school bus are flashing, regardless of the direction of approach.” If you are injured due to the negligence of another party in a school bus accident, Law Offices of Irene H. Gabo Esq. have the expertise and experience to make sure you are justly compensated.
Common Injuries in School Bus Accidents
A school bus accident can result in a wide range of injuries, not only to the children on board, but to the bus driver and matron as well. The most common injuries are as follows:
- Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
- Spinal Cord Injuries
- Internal Bleeding
- Bone Fractures
There are many other injuries that a child or adult involved in a school bus accident can sustain, not limited to the list above. It is critical that any injured party in a school bus accident receives immediate medical attention and is fully evaluated on the extent on their injuries.
Next Steps in Case of an Accident
The claim and lawsuit procedures, and timing of starting an action may be different between public and private owners of a school bus, making it extremely important to have an experienced personal injury attorney on your case. If you or your child have been injured in an accident involving a school bus, it is extremely important to have a strong and experienced legal advocate in your corner to ensure justice is served and you are justly compensated for your injuries.
Contact our law firm and personal injury attorney, Irene H. Gabo Esq., for expert guidance and a free consultation today. Please feel free to contact our office with any questions at (800) 560-0214 or complete the form on our website to get started.