Every day across the country, nearly 500,000 buses carry more than 25 million students to and from school and school-related activities.
School buses are the safest vehicles on the road, and one of the safest modes of transportation overall. In fact, children are much safer traveling in school buses than in any other vehicle, whether they're going to and from school, a field trip, or a sporting event. They are even safer riding in a school bus than in a car with their parents or caregivers.
Although school buses are extremely safe, we have investigated school bus crashes in which children were injured and, in some cases, died, and identified areas in which safety improvements are needed.
Stats to Know
From 2011 to 2020:
• 1,009 Fatal school transportation related crashes
• 52% - Over half of school-age pedestrians killed in school transportation related crashes were 5- to 10-years-old.
• 1.6 times more fatalities among pedestrians (183) than occupants of school transportation vehicles (113) in school-transportation-related crashes.
Seat Belts on School Buses
School buses use a unique technology called compartmentalization—a passive occupant protection system to protect children in crash. School bus seats are made with an energy-absorbing steel inner structure and high, padded seat backs, and are secured to the school bus floor. Students are protected within the seating compartment much like eggs in a carton. Through our crash investigations, we have found that, compartmentalization alone is not enough to prevent all injuries and that for some of the children involved, a seat belt could have lessened their injuries or even saved their lives.
As a result of our school bus crash investigations, we believe—and have recommended—that, when investing in new school buses, the purchased vehicles should provide children with the best protection available, which includes lap/shoulder seat belts.
Lap/shoulder belts are not the only safety feature that we recommend for improving school bus safety. Unfortunately, our investigations have also shown that children need to be better protected outside the school bus, too.
Occupant Protect: School Bus Safety
Illegal Passing of Stopped School Buses
Every state has a law making it illegal to pass a school bus that's stopped to load or unload passengers with its red lights flashing and stop arm extended. Far too many drivers simply choose to ignore the law for their own convenience and put children at risk.
In 2018, we saw the deadly consequences of such a choice when a pickup truck driver failed to stop for a stopped school bus that had its red warning lights and stop arm activated. The pickup truck struck children crossing the road to board the stopped bus. As a result of the investigation, we recommended that states enact legislation to permit stop arm cameras on school buses to capture images and allow citations to be issued for illegal school bus passings based on the camera-obtained information. We also recommended that the use of school bus stops that require students to cross a roadway should be minimized.
Vehicle Collision with Student Pedestrians Crossing a High Speed Roadway to Board School Bus
Rochester, IN | Oct 30, 2018 |Investigation Page
Summary Document | Presentation Slides May 13, 2020
To better protect children in and around school buses, we have also recommended that new school buses be equipped with collision avoidance and connected vehicles technologies. See our recommendations:
Presentations and Testimony
Examining the Federal Role in Improving School Bus Safety
Testimony of Kristin Poland, PhD Deputy Director, NTSB Office of Highway Safety Before the Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure Subcommittee on Highways and Transit United States House of Representatives on Examining the Federal Role in Improving School Bus Safety. July 25, 2019
NTSB School Bus Investigations: Updates and Safety Recommendations
Presentation to the Iowa Pupil Transportation Association Annual Conference in Des Moines, IA by Michele Beckjord, Supervisory Investigator-In-Charge, Office of Highway Safety. July 15, 2019
Lessons Learned from NTSB Bus Crash Investigations
Presentation to the Alabama School Transportation Conference by Stephanie Shaw, Safety Advocate, Office of Safety Recommendations and Communications. June 6, 2019
Updates Regarding NTSB School Bus Investigations
Presentation on NTSB School Bus Investigations by Michele Beckjord, Supervisory Investigator-In-Charge, Office of Highway Safety. Oct. 29, 2018
Updated January 24, 2023