Whether you’re a parent concerned about your child’s safety, or a school superintendent looking to cut costs, it is in your best interest to understand what constitutes an appropriate school bus.
While you may know that federal law requires school buses to have certain coloring and markings, you may not realize that school buses can vary in length. Some people believe that larger school buses (regardless of whether they have seat belts) are actually safer in auto accidents than smaller vehicles. The belief is that a larger bus absorbs more force after an impact than a smaller bus.
Additionally, the egg carton-like design of school bus seating helps to ensure passengers are cushioned and not thrown about. Considering that around 30,000 Americans die in car accidents every year, and only six school-aged children die as passengers in bus crashes, school buses may just be safer than you think.
Does federal law place restrictions on school bus size and length?
When the federal government is truly concerned with a societal issue, it creates a department that oversees laws and regulations pertaining to the matter. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or (NHTSA), is responsible for creating safe transportation rules for our country. The NHTSA website provides the following definition for school buses in the United States:
A school bus is a “bus” that is sold or introduced into interstate commerce for purposes that include carrying students to and from school or related events. A bus is a motor vehicle that has capacity of 11 persons or more (including the driver). This definition can include vans, but does not include buses operated as common carriers in urban transportation.
A look at some of the different types of school buses
School buses vary in size based on the job they are performing. For example, to transport a team of high school football players, you would probably want a Type D school bus. This yellow behemoth has a maximum length of 45 feet and is designed to carry close to 60 passengers.
On the other hand, if you were transporting a handful of elementary school passengers, you would probably want a Type A bus that is shorter and lighter. Type A buses were first used in the 1950s and 1960s in urban environments where it was difficult for larger buses to maneuver.
Below is an infographic listing and describing the common types of school buses used today:
You should also be aware that while some schools purchase brand new bus fleets, many old school buses are still in use, including vehicles manufactured in the 1990s and beyond. An older vehicle can still be safe, as long as it is routinely inspected and maintained.
Prior to sending your son or daughter off to school, you should research the model type and year of the bus he or she will be riding. Take note of the bus design, safety features and any other issues that may affect your child’s commute. Should any red flags pop up about the bus — such as accident records, mechanical defects, and other known safety issues — contact your school immediately.