School Bus is Safer Than Carpooling!

Please share this with friends who are skeptical of school bus safety. EdWeek ihfaydzsie
is reporting:

In spite of recent high-profile bus crashes, a new Government Accountability Office report suggests school buses are probably still a safer way to get your kids to school than driving them yourself.

From 2000 to 2015, there’s been on average 115 fatal crashes involving a school bus each year in the United States, the GAO found—that’s only a third of a percent of the nearly 35,000 fatal crashes during that time. The number of crashes remained relatively steady during that time.

Got that? One third of one percent!

Long story short: Bus crashes, like plane crashes, make the news. But riding in that big yellow tube is remarkably safe. There’s no reason to demonize it the way we have demonized the walk to school, the walk to the park, the walk to the store…

In fact, remembering that kids are very safe these days is a way to practice gratitude — always a good idea.


All aboard!


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34 Responses to School Bus is Safer Than Carpooling!

  1. Dienne January 19, 2017 at 11:35 am #

    Physically safe, maybe, but school buses are one of the hottest places for bullying and other general awfulness that might not quite rise to the level of bullying but is more than unpleasant nonetheless. Usually there’s only one adult on board and s/he is busy, well, driving. That leaves up to 66 urchins packed wall to wall with time on their hands and absolutely no supervision. And even when there are bus monitors, they themselves can’t always deal with the situation ( ).

    I suffered through it through middle school (elementary school was close enough to walk) but starting in high school I threatened to boycott school if I had to ride the bus. I was even willing to walk the three miles if I had to. But fortunately my older brother had to drive my freshman year since he took a class at a college one town over, and by sophomore year I had older friends who drove.

    School buses are evil.

  2. John B. January 19, 2017 at 11:48 am #


    “School buses are evil.”


    Well, they’re certainly a PITA (Pain In The A..) when you’re stuck behind them in traffic! But if I had kids and we lived 10 miles from school, I certainly would have no problems with them riding the big yellow bus to school.

  3. Carla January 19, 2017 at 12:16 pm #

    “And even when there are bus monitors, they themselves can’t always deal with the situation.”

    Dienne–and sometimes the bus monitors are the problem. I wish it hadn’t taken so long for me to learn that the one on my kids’ bus was an absolute b***h toward them. It wasn’t so bad for my eldest, but the woman seemed to delight in making the other two miserable. Nothing egregious, like screaming or anything physical. Just harassment and nitpicking, and in my son’s case, making sure that his seatmate was someone who made the ride unpleasant. More than once, she changed his seating assignment when he started getting along with his seatmate. If I could ever have gotten concrete proof about what was happening–well, let’s just say it wouldn’t have been good for her. But it would all have only come down to “he said-she said.” I’m just glad it wasn’t long after I found out until my eldest got her driver’s license and was able to drive them all to and from school.

  4. Papilio January 19, 2017 at 12:17 pm #

    And the more kids are in the bus, the fewer maniac mom drivers are on the road to run them over when boarding/exiting said bus…

  5. Elisabeth January 19, 2017 at 12:29 pm #

    School buses are not evil. School buses are a means of conveyance. Only people can do evil, and only people can learn the difference between right and wrong. When my kid rode the school bus in 3rd grade, he reported being picked on. And he said he felt weird about being the only white kid on the bus (hmmm…lots of white kids in our community…wonder how they were all getting to school?). I could have stopped having him ride the bus, gotten into one of the various carpools going up and down our hill every day, but someone please tell me how that would have made him better off? Would it mean he would never encounter jerks ever again? Would it have helped him understand that his community is made up of lots of different people with lots of different backgrounds?

    It was on me to help him figure out how to feel safer and more secure in that situation, but not to just change his environment because that one had some challenges. It took several different approaches to figuring out how to make things better for him on the bus. But the situation became manageable and it’s one more time in his experience that he worked through his fear and discomfort without just exiting the situation.

  6. Tami January 19, 2017 at 12:32 pm #

    We lived 15 miles out of town, so we always took the bus. And we waited outside at the end of the driveway in sometimes -40 degree weather for that big yellow bus to come. My best friends were on that bus. That’s where I learned about getting in quarrels with friends and solving those quarrels ourselves, sometimes all within the 40 minute ride to school. There were cool kids and not so cool kids all on the same bus, and somehow we all managed to get along while we rode. It was a K-12 bus, so we had all ages on there and I don’t remember much bullying. If there was, it was taken care of pretty quickly. We had a pretty strict driver and we knew if he made eye contact with you in the review mirror, you were in trouble. I actually told him how much I appreciated him the last time I visited my hometown. Now my nieces take the same ride to my same elementary school and they seem to be having my very same experience. There was no such thing as a pick up line when I was in school. I’m not sure if there is one at my old school now. Kids walk or take the bus. If parents do drop off or pick up, it’s usually because of a dentist or doctor appointment. They park in the parking lot and go in to check them out or let the kids come to them when school is released.

    I work across the street from a junior high now and I have to leave at the same time as school pick up begins. Parents snake down the street in the cars and block the road because the pick up lanes are full. I find myself taking deep breaths to not have road rage, because many times, I’m stuck until the lane starts moving 15 minutes later when school actually lets out. I really don’t understand how everyone has time to sit 30 minutes a day in a pick up line. Don’t people work? And buses are available, so I’m always surprised more families don’t send kids on the bus.

  7. Jessica January 19, 2017 at 12:32 pm #

    Well, I mean, it’s a third of one percent of ALL fatal crashes. But that’s kind of a silly comparison, since almost all car traveling that everyone does is not in a school bus. Like, obviously, the only people who are on busses at all are people between 5 and 18, for one hour each morning, and one hour each afternoon, for 180 days.

    But at any rate– yes, buses are super safe. I put my beloved only child, who is 5, on one every morning.

  8. Anna January 19, 2017 at 12:37 pm #

    I kind of have to agree with Dienne. Luckily, I was walking distance from my elementary school, so I only took the school bus for part of 9th grade. It was awful – merciless taunting of uncool kids, constant obscenity and vulgarity, even boys lighting girls’ hair on fire (as we who were kids in the 80s know, hairspray is highly flammable!). It wasn’t even possible to just keep your head down and hope people would leave you alone on that bus. I soon stopped taking the bus, choosing to either walk or bike the 2 miles or pay to ride the city bus.

  9. Kevin Thomas January 19, 2017 at 12:54 pm #

    It is even safer that you think. 115 average crashes annually involving fatalities includes crashes where the fatality was in another vehicle, not in the bus. For the period 2005-2014 there were 110 fatalities of either the bus driver or passenger(s):

    For the 110 school-bus-occupant fatalities from 2005 to 2014, 46 were drivers and 64 were passengers. Of the remaining fatalities in crashes involving school buses, 71 percent were occupants of other involved vehicles and 21 percent were pedestrians and other non-occupants.

    It isn’t even clear if all those deaths are children. If memory serves, some of those deaths were adult chaperones in that time frame.

    Of course, one thing to note is that the data isn’t complete. Some states either don’t do a very good job documenting this data or don’t pass it on the federal government.

    Still, and this is what actually prompted me to post a reply, comparing this info to ALL fatal crashes is a bit unfair. I would be interesting in seeing how it compares to private vehicle fatalities involving school activities. I doubt good data exists for that however.

  10. CK January 19, 2017 at 1:00 pm #

    My kids (elementary school) had the unfortunate experience of seeing really inappropriate content on other kids’ phones. Another time some boys, including mine, were joking about balls and were later accused of sexual harrassment. Carpool line for me.

  11. Donna January 19, 2017 at 1:39 pm #

    The absolute worst part of school was the bus ride. I was predominantly a walker in 1-6 grade. There was a bus available for 5th and 6th grade, but we lived so close to the school that I only rode it when the weather was bad. We moved in 7th grade and I had to ride the bus. It sucked. It was hot, smelly, extremely loud and I got motion sickness. I was so happy to get my license so I could drive to school.

    My child also lives just outside the walking zone for her elementary school and, while there is a bus available, she has never ridden it. Mostly it is because it comes way earlier than she needs to leave even to walk. She either rides her bike or I drop her off. Either way she has to get herself home and she would rather walk than ride the bus. The middle school is too far to walk, so we’ll see what happens next year.

  12. Caiti January 19, 2017 at 1:39 pm #

    I took the bus for many years and middle school was the worst. One highlight I remember is the last week of school when the boys who sat in the back brought super soakers, filled them with pee, and sprayed every kid on the bus.

    BUT, I like that my son gets a little bit of time with his friends with minimal supervision. The rules are very strict (my son was told not to do homework on the bus after school because it was dangerous for him to hold a pencil while the bus is in motion) but at least my son gets to learn how to stand up for himself in a way that he’s been deprived of by the constant presence of adults in every other area of his life.

  13. Miriam January 19, 2017 at 1:51 pm #

    I’d say walking instead of bus. With friends. Or one adult accompanying them if it’s very young kids. But when, once, I needed another adult to accompany my child to the school bus, and I asked a friend parent if she could take my daughter, walking, to school in case the bus would not arrive (it happens sometimes), she said OK, but wasn’t very happy with the added responsibility. Other parents don’t want the added responsibility. I have met only a few parents with the same laid back attitude as mine, and they are not in my daughter’s class. And maybe it also has to do with the nature of the child. Mine is really careful, actually too cautious, so I don’t have to warn her about dangers. She’s too scared of things herself.

    Regarding bullying: in the bus they are sitting. Bored. Walking – they release energy, watch things. That’s why bullying happens, I think. Not because of lack of supervision. But because they have nothing to do. A total waste of time. My daughter is 5, I was happy that she’ll have this experience, being responsible, on her own, etc, but I found it was just a waste of her time. There were no bullying issues in her bus (it’s an elementary school, I don’t know if that plays a role, but I think it does), but she was just tired to be an extra 1.5 hours on the road, for a ride that is not that long. Sometimes we walk to school together, but usually we don’t wake up early enough – so we drive.

    I’m sure it’s usually safer to drive the bus in general, but not sure it’s true for every case. Some kids spend a lot more time on the road in the bus than in the car. And the comparison is difficult, as it’s only a short time in the morning and in the afternoon – you can’t compare it to all the driving, year round, including nights, new years’ eve, etc etc.

    Just saying that organized walking would have been much better than both.

  14. MikeOnBike January 19, 2017 at 1:57 pm #

    The conclusion is probably valid, but the math is incomplete. There are lots more cars than school buses. What is the rate per mile traveled? Or the rate per trip?

    To be even more precise, what if you only count the car trips between home and school, not all car trips everywhere?

    It’s likely still safer to put 50 passengers in one bus than in 50 cars, but we need better data.

  15. A Reader January 19, 2017 at 2:29 pm #

    Ironically, just the other day, my good friend’s 4 year old was injured in a bus accident. Poor kid has a broken femur and pelvis. His was the worst injury in the crash, the other kids just got a bit banged up. Still, I know that statistically, buses are safer than cars, though I definitely wouldn’t blame my friend for deciding to drive carpool forevermore. I have other concerns about buses- like others mentioned, the bullying (a genuine concern for me as one of my kids has a disability), also kids tend to pick up the worst language and behavior from bus mates probably due to the wide age range on the bus. So I do think there are good reasons not to use the bus. Moot point for me anyway. My kids are in a religious school, so no busing from the district. You can pay for busing or you can carpool. It makes more sense for me to carpool.

  16. Anna January 19, 2017 at 2:52 pm #

    “The conclusion is probably valid, but the math is incomplete. There are lots more cars than school buses. What is the rate per mile traveled? Or the rate per trip?”

    Good point – probably the correct comparison would be accidents per total miles travelled – i.e., 1 mile of bus travel with 50 passengers = 50 miles travelled. But I don’t think those figures would be easy to come by.

  17. Suze January 19, 2017 at 3:16 pm #

    I never took a bus to school. My husband never took a bus to school. My son never took a bus to school. Ask most kids that take a bus to school what it’s like. They will give you a million stories about what’s wrong and what they hate about taking a bus to school; one of which isn’t the fact that they live too far away to walk but wish they didn’t live that far away and COULD walk. Every kid I ever went to school with that took a bus told me they didn’t like it; they were cold in the winter, hot at the first in the fall and again towards the end of the school year. Yes, I’ve even heard stories about dangerous and terrible bus drivers. BUT generally, no issues with it being a very unsafe way to transport children to and from school.

  18. Kirsten January 19, 2017 at 3:16 pm #

    I wouldn’t blame the buses themselves. I think they are the best way to get to school if your child can’t walk or bike to school. I did happen to have been molested by an older boy on the school bus when I was 11 and he was 14. But again that is not the bus’s fault and could probably have happened elsewhere in the school.

  19. Danp January 19, 2017 at 3:17 pm #

    Thank you, MikeOnBike.
    I love this blog too much to let it slide. LS, please do not sensationalize without good statistics.

    This report was not designed to compare school bus safety to the safety of other vehicles. The ONLY headline that this report justifies would be something something like: in the 8 states studied, school buses are pretty safe! The headline here is misleading and is likely wrong.

    This blog exists to help people rationally evaluate risk. Your evaluation of the relative risks of different transportation options here undermines the core of your message.
    First, data-driven decisions on safety should not guide all of our decision making. Second, if you want to promote school buses, do it because they provide other benefits, like an opportunity for some relatively unsupervised fun.

    [Also, don’t rely on this report for the proposition that “school buses are pretty safe.” In some cases, that great safety record might be due in part to safety regulations. And what if those regulations are excessive and wasteful? The point is, you don’t know.]

  20. Kirsten January 19, 2017 at 3:24 pm #

    I don’t know how to edit so I’ll write a second post. I also got to listen to top 40 radio on the hour long bus ride back and forth and we did not have radios at home and I was completely ignorant of popular music, so this was kind of a treat for me. I also loved to sit and stare out the window and get lost in my thoughts, almost like a meditation. It never seemed too long. And our school was private, so it had first grade through twelfth, so I got to interact with kids from very different age groups or just observe the older kids and listen to their conversations (which I found fascinating.) The boy who groped and harassed me was eventually discouraged when I had the courage to move up to the front row and tell the driver he was “bothering me”. I never told anyone what happened, but that one act scared him off from continuing to do it.

    Other times were really good – for a while we had a driver who once a week would stop halfway through the ride at a convenience store so we could buy candy. Then again, parents reading this might see that as a *bad* side of buses! i was thrilled because we didn’t have sweets at home.

  21. Ted Finlayson-Schueler January 19, 2017 at 3:28 pm #

    This is an incredibly poor explanation of the issue. It is about 5X safer for a student to ride the bus to school that for an adult to drive them. If the driver is a teen the danger goes through the roof and walking and biking are both very dangerous compared to the school bus. I was a part of a committee at the Transportation Research Board that did a pretty thorough investigation of this issue. The report is at: It is a free download. Beyond these general broad sweep analyses, there are lots of specific ways for operating more safely than the norm in any mode. New York State school buses, for instance, transport 10% of all the kids in the US, but have a much smaller percentage of student fatalities because of the driver training program and state regulations and procedures. I want to be sure to acknowledge that this refers to injuries and fatalities in vehicular crashes and does not address the legitimate issues raised by many here about bullying and other issues relative to the culture and atmosphere on any given bus.

  22. JTW January 19, 2017 at 4:05 pm #

    School bus is safe, but the numbers mentioned are meaningless.
    So lethal accidents involving school busses make up 1 in 2000 lethal crashes (give or take).
    But what percentage of vehicles on the road are school busses?
    If it’s less than 1 in 2000, the accident RATE of them is higher than that of other vehicles.

    I don’t know that number, and whatever it is it’s still a very low number of accidents, but the statistics as stated are no evidence that school busses are more safe than cars.

  23. Anna January 19, 2017 at 4:09 pm #

    “If it’s less than 1 in 2000, the accident RATE of them is higher than that of other vehicles.”

    Sure, but the relevant fact is the rate of fatal accidents per child getting to school by one means or the other rather than the accident rate per vehicle, since the question is which way of getting to school is safer for each child.

  24. theresa January 19, 2017 at 4:12 pm #

    It might be pretty safe but it would be better with seat belts and good drivers. That driver who made news not long ago should had his license taken away but they waited till he put the bus around a tree.

  25. Beanie January 19, 2017 at 4:44 pm #

    I pick mine up because I prefer they have free time at home rather than 25 minutes watching other kids play on their cell phones, after a very long day at school. It’s an indulgence, sure. But seven hours spent mostly sitting is cruddy enough. I also like the after school talks we have. Once they get home, that window vanishes. Bus in the morning is good enough.

  26. En Passant January 19, 2017 at 6:22 pm #

    EdWeek reports:

    From 2000 to 2015, there’s been on average 115 fatal crashes involving a school bus each year in the United States, the GAO found—that’s only a third of a percent of the nearly 35,000 fatal crashes during that time. The number of crashes remained relatively steady during that time.

    What EdWeek and GAO did not report is to whom the crashes were fatal, car passengers or bus passengers.

    The GAO report, on page 8, glosses over this omission with bureaucratic bafflegab:

    Therefore, NHTSA uses this variable to isolate school-bus-related crashes in FARS data and generates an annual report describing the number and some characteristics of fatal school-bus-related crashes.[10] For example, the report describes characteristics of fatal school-bus crashes such as the time of day and whether the fatality(ies) was an occupant or nonoccupant of the school bus or other involved vehicles. NHTSA can also isolate school bus crashes from GES data; however, because GES is a sample of crashes and school bus crashes are such rare events, GES data cannot be used to reliably examine year-to-year trends, according to NHTSA. NHTSA’s crash data aim to cover all types of traffic accidents, and as such, FARS and GES do not include additional variables tailored to accidents involving school buses.

    The general rule for vehicular collisions is that the heavier vehicle wins (or is damaged least). Car collisions with buses often just dent the bus and destroy the car. It is not unreasonable to infer that most reported fatalities in these collisions are car passengers, not bus passengers.

  27. Mya Greene January 20, 2017 at 1:15 am #

    Bullying can happen in a carpool as well, as was the case with me. Bullying can happen anytime, anywhere, and to anyone. It doesn’t stop at the school bus, or at the end of childhood. Might as well learn some conflict resolution. I also think that society in general needs more empathy and understanding toward those who are unconventional in any way. And “bad” language, and all-ages are a fact of life. Period. And guess what? “Bad” language and multi-generational affairs are safer than you think. With all of the technology these days, not even the most meticulous helicopter parent can shelter their kid from that reality, unless they locked their kid in a basement. The attitude toward “inappropriate” ( who says?) content expressed by quite a few in these comments reveals an interesting contradiction to the philosophy of this site.

  28. NY Mom January 20, 2017 at 8:17 am #

    I am OK with busses, despite the mean-spirited teasing and taunting.
    It goes on all day long in school anyway.

    What bothers me is that the kids in my neighborhood, who live only a mile from school, are picked up and dropped off first and last and are on the bus for 45 minutes every morning and afternoon, adding an hour and a half to their already tedious school day.
    When do they get to play?

    It is no wonder they are rowdy on the bus: they need fresh air and exercise, for goodness sakes!

    We can send probes to Mars but we can’t sort out bus schedules to benefit our most precious resource, our children.

  29. delurking January 20, 2017 at 8:35 am #

    Rely on a reporter to screw up the numbers and confuse people. There aren’t “35,000 fatal crashes during that time”. There are 35,000 fatal crashes PER YEAR. Regardless, was there ever any doubt that being in a heavier vehicle is safer than being in a lighter vehicle? Unfortunately, most people who thought that driving their kids was safer than putting them on a school bus are not going to be convinced by a GAO study.

  30. Anna January 20, 2017 at 9:51 am #

    “The attitude toward “inappropriate” ( who says?) content expressed by quite a few in these comments reveals an interesting contradiction to the philosophy of this site.”

    Uh, what? Your understanding of the free range philosophy is that we shouldn’t give a darn what our kids are doing and seeing – anything goes? That’s certainly not my philosophy: I think kids should be allowed to play unsupervised because time outdoors, free play, physical risk-taking, and interactions with other kids are objectively valuable and wholesome experiences that help them develop into healthy and happy adults, and I believe those activities are objectively far superior to most of the ways kids who aren’t allowed some physical freedom will likely spend their time – which today, generally means with an electronic device.

    I don’t see any contradiction whatsoever in believing all that and at the same time believing that exposure to pornography before puberty (which has become more common than not in the age of the smartphone) is damaging to healthy development. So no apologies here, though it wasn’t my words you were quoting.

  31. CrazyCatLady January 20, 2017 at 11:17 am #

    Last weekend, my son had a competition, two hours away. A bus was gotten for the team, but, though the teacher had specified that it needed a luggage area that was a certain height to put in the exhibits they made, that was NOT the bus they sent us. (Yes, they do have the buses that would work, as they have used them in the past.) Short story is, I had a van, and could fit all the models after the back two seats were removed.

    So I drove 2 hours on snowy roads. And I learned, buses handle the snow and ice MUCH better than my all wheel drive van that handles better in the snow and ice than any other vehicle I have ever had. I am no slouch about the snow and ice, I used to live in Montana where only the main roads were plowed and most roads in town were not. Buses handle GREAT. I had to drive much more cautiously than the bus.

    This just reinforced the fact that while most mornings we try to go to the gym before school and then I drive the kids to school, on icy mornings, like today, the kids take the bus, as then I don’t have to worry about the other less experienced drivers hitting my car.

  32. Mya Greene January 21, 2017 at 12:16 am #

    I think that certain educational discussions should be had, preferably before certain content exposure, and that it shouldn’t all be left up to chance. When it comes to pornography specifically, the scant research has shown that a child’s ability to deal with any exposure depends largely on how well they are educated about sex and sexuality, and not so much physical development, especially since puberty hits at different times for everyone, and doesn’t necessarily line up perfectly with other cognitive development. Also there is a huge difference between catching an accidental glimpse on a bus, and viewing hours on end.

    So abstinence-only educated kids are probably in huge trouble. Start an honest conversation your kids about sex, anatomy, and orientation early on, and they will be much more prepared for any school bus potty talk. By the way, I am not saying kids should be scrambling to watch porn, just that its impact depends on much more than age, and it is up to parents to minimize this impact with proper education when the exposure does happen. And trust me, it will, before you know it, and in a place you may not have been expecting. And when it comes to other stuff, like swearing, context is what determines the harm, not the words themselves. Belittle your kid with profanity, that’s a problem. Swearing in a movie, not so much. Ask yourself, is the chance that one kid brings playboy or swears on the bus worth not riding at all?

    Basically all I am saying is that kid’s content viewing shouldn’t be micromanaged at the level that their mobility and play equipment currently is. Think that playground equipment is safe? The f-bomb they just heard on YouTube during the bus ride is too. Your kids may be worse off when they are too sheltered from the media, just like they are worse off when they can’t go outside.

  33. Jon January 21, 2017 at 8:37 am #

    The bus can be tons of fun sometimes too. My 3rd grade bus driver, who we all greeted every day with “Word G!” and a fist bump, let us have snowball fights on the bus, took an off-route road with bumps that made us fly a couple feet into the air (the better we behaved, the faster shed drive and the higher wed bounce), let us run down the aisle and dive into the front seat as she hit the brakes, chill on the bus alone while she went to the bank… I know I know, but she wasn’t TOTALLY irresponsible, she made the K and 1st graders stay on the bus while the rest of us got off to go wander around a big yard sale, since she didn’t trust them to come back when the 15 minutes she gave us were up. You’ve never seen kids so excited to get on the bus every morning. Can’t even imagine what would happen to her for that today. This was 92/93 at an expensive private catholic school, yet no one sued, or even complained apparently. When I was an adult, my mom told me that the other parents biggest problem was, God bless their religious teachings of tolerance, the way she made us greet her… It was apparently quite the big deal she was making a bus full of all white kids “act black.”

  34. Vancouver dad January 21, 2017 at 11:22 pm #

    I drive a bus for public transit, and let me tell you we are WELL trained and WELL paid. Before that I considered a job as a school bus driver, and they receive NO training (except having a valid bus-driver license) and are VERY poorly paid. We live in a big city (population in the millions) and I would absolutely send my kid to school on a public bus. But I don’t have the same confidence in school buses.

    Safety aside, I believe that ages should mix. Little kids generally get stuck up for and looked after by the bigger kids, and big kids learn to look after the littler kids. Throw “outsider” adults into the mix on public transit, and I think it likely some random adult would step in if the kids were getting out of hand. I live in Canada, but I can’t image things are that much different anywhere else in the world. We’re all humans with empathy and the instinct to nurture the young.

    I know not everyone lives in a big city, and school buses are sometimes the only option, but I would absolutely choose public transit over school buses for my kids every time. Even though my wife and I both have our own cars, and my wife doesn’t work, I still take my two young kids on the bus regularly when we go out, so they’ll learn to use it themselves as soon as they’re old enough go to the library or park on their own.