Bus Accident Prevention

Bus Accident Prevention

By Matt Komac, MSGIA Assistant Director for Property & Liability Pool Operations

Recently, bus repair costs and time for repairs have increased significantly in our region. This is due to parts shortages as well as labor rates, which in the auto body sector are as high as $160 per hour in certain parts of Montana. This situation is particularly notable in light of the fact that, in FY22, claims involving school buses accounted for nearly 25% of our total PC Pool claim count, wherein the average bus repair was $10,436.  Notably, these costs do not include damage to other vehicles or property, nor do they account for the related costs of injuries that resulted from the accidents. 

Although not all accidents are preventable, focusing your safety efforts on reducing the number associated with excessive speed and inattentive driving can help you mitigate the amount of costly property damage, and, much more importantly, decrease the number of students and staff injured in bus-related accidents. 

Because transporting students entails a tremendous amount of potential risk and serious responsibility, bus drivers must take every precaution and follow all safety protocols. In light of this admonition, we ask that you provide the following tips and guidelines to your drives to help ensure their safety and that of their precious passengers: 

  • Be sure you are of sound mind and body – do not drive, for instance, if you are feeling ill or fatigued.
  • We live in Montana – always be ready for the weather to change and plan accordingly.
  • Plan ahead – if roads are snow-covered, icy or wet, be sure to allow enough time to get to your destination safely.
  • Do a pre-trip inspection to ensure all tires are properly inflated, the windshield is clean, fluids are topped off, mirrors are properly adjusted, etc.
  • Always buckle your seatbelt before you start driving.
  • Drive for the current road conditions, not the posted speed limit – even on dry roads, driving 5 mph below the speed limit improves reaction time and helps prevent accidents, especially at night.
  • Pay attention while driving – distracted driving is one of the leading causes of accidents.
  • Turn off your cell phone prior to driving – with the rare exception of emergency situations, bus drivers are prohibited from using cell phones while driving. To call for assistance in the event of a mechanical breakdown or other mechanical problems, the driver should place the call when the school bus is parked.
  • Make wide turns – side-swipe accidents are extremely common, easily avoided, and very expensive.
  • Avoid whenever possible putting the bus in a position where it needs to be backed up.
  • If you do have to back up, check behind you before you get into the vehicle, make sure the mirrors are adjusted correctly, and, if possible, ask somebody to assist as a spotter.
  • Watch for wildlife along the road – this is especially important during breeding season in the fall and winter and when animals are seeking food sources close to the road.
  • If your route consists of open range, slow down and watch closely for black cattle, which can be extremely hard to see at night.
  • And, finally, always conduct a post-trip inspection to help ready the bus for the next journey.

In addition to the suggestions above, MSGIA has a library of SafeSchools classes available to you. Please consider assigning the following courses to your staff that drive district vehicles, especially those transporting students. 

  • Distracted Driving (12 min)
  • Defensive Driving (19 min)
  • Winter Driving (15 min)
  • City Driving (15)
  • Van Safety (21 min) and 15-Person Van Safety (19 min)
  • Driver Training Course 05: Mirror Adjustment and Reference Points (20 min)
  • Driver Training Course 07: Intersections (41 min)
  • Driver Training Course 08: Safe Backing (22 min)
  • Driver Training Course 11: Pedestrians & Cyclists (27 min)
  • Driver Training Course 14: Driver Fatigue (26 min)

As a closing note, if your district is considering purchasing electric buses, please keep in mind some known and some still uncertain but emerging concerns related to owning, operating, and repairing these vehicles.  Although the technology is intriguing, you will want to talk with the manufacturer about who would handle the repairs to the bus in the event of an accident.  Because of the mechanical and technical differences, some minor body damage can likely be handled locally, but more extensive damage may require that the bus be towed halfway across the country, and, as importantly, the repairs may take up to 6 months to complete. Return to newsletter