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Missing Accident Data Impedes Ability to Prevent School bus Accidents

The horrifying fatal school bus accident in Chattanooga in November that killed five children has highlighted the frailties in the system that make it difficult to track accidents and take steps to effectively prevent similar deadly crashes.

In November, a bus left Woodmore Elementary School with approximately 37 students on board, crashed into a tree, and flipped over. Six children were killed, and several others injured, including six who were injured seriously enough to be rushed to the intensive care unit. The driver of the bus was arrested on charges of vehicle homicide. At least one of the children on the bus was a kindergartner.

According to the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT), this year alone, there have been at least 700 accidents involving metro Atlanta school buses, or approximately 2 crashes a day.  However, that data may be incomplete.  Officials admit that the database lacks data on many accidents, and this makes it difficult for officials to track accident rates, pinpoint causes, and take steps to eliminate these accidents. Those steps include retraining school drivers, strengthening training and safety standards, and identifying accident trends in particular areas. Better accident data could also help identify dangerous drivers, who can then be removed from the system.

This missing data makes it difficult to get a better picture of the overall school bus safety situation in the state, and the longer such a delay continues, the greater the danger that school children will be at risk in these vehicles. According to the GDOT, while school districts are obligated to report all accident data to the department, they are not penalized for failing to do so. That means that many districts fail to report accurate data, and important and useful information is withheld from the system.

Current accident data reveals that approximately one in four school bus accidents results in the driver being charged. Some of the most frequent causes of school bus accidents in the state include driver errors, like backing up the bus incorrectly, failing to judge clearance correctly, or tailgating another vehicle.

The Chattanooga school bus accident has pushed school districts into action, and many have now confirmed that they are working on correcting their reporting systems so that accidents are reported to the department as quickly as possible.  We would also expect that school bus accident attorneys will put pressure on districts to keep children safe while traveling to from school.