1
Introduction

Children in the United States travel to and from school and school-related activities by a variety of modes, including school bus, other types of buses (e.g., transit, motorcoach), rail and trolley, bicycle, walking, privately owned and operated vehicle (e.g., automobile, passenger van, sport utility vehicle, pickup truck), and vehicle for hire (e.g., taxicab, van service). Little is known, however, about the comparative safety of these various modes for trips to and from school and school-related activities. The purpose of this report is to assess the relative risks of each major mode used for school travel and to provide insights into the potential effects on safety of changes in the distribution of trips by mode.

CONTEXT

Nature of the Problem

On average, 20 school-age children—5 school bus occupants and 15 pedestrians— die each year in school bus–related crashes. Of the 15 school bus–related pedestrian fatalities, two-thirds of the victims are struck by the school bus itself, while the remaining third are struck by other vehicles, many of whose drivers pass the school bus illegally while it is stopped to load or unload students. Comparable statistics regarding the safety of students being transported by other modes are not readily available. National statistics for the period 1991–1999 indicate, however, that an average of 810 school-age children were fatally injured annually during normal school travel hours (weekdays 6 a.m. to 8:59 a.m. and 2 p.m. to 4:59 p.m.)1 in typical school months (September through mid-June), while approximately 153,000 school-age children received nonfatal injuries. Just over 3.5 percent of these injured children were passengers on school buses, while only 0.025 percent were student pedestrians injured in school bus–related crashes, and 72 percent were riding in motor vehicles that were not buses of any type.

The way in which children travel to and from school is influenced in part by school transportation policies and guidelines developed at the federal, state, and local levels; in part by parental choice; and in some cases, particularly with older schoolchildren, by student choice. At each level, decisions that are made can have a profound effect on the risks incurred. For example, students who live closer to the school than the minimum walking distance are necessarily depen-

1

The available data do not permit a breakdown of school travel–related injuries and fatalities according to whether they occurred en route to or from school. In this report, therefore, the term normal school travel hours, as defined here, is used to denote the overall period of interest.



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The Relative Risks of School Travel: A National Perspective and Guidance for Local Community Risk Assessment 1 Introduction Children in the United States travel to and from school and school-related activities by a variety of modes, including school bus, other types of buses (e.g., transit, motorcoach), rail and trolley, bicycle, walking, privately owned and operated vehicle (e.g., automobile, passenger van, sport utility vehicle, pickup truck), and vehicle for hire (e.g., taxicab, van service). Little is known, however, about the comparative safety of these various modes for trips to and from school and school-related activities. The purpose of this report is to assess the relative risks of each major mode used for school travel and to provide insights into the potential effects on safety of changes in the distribution of trips by mode. CONTEXT Nature of the Problem On average, 20 school-age children—5 school bus occupants and 15 pedestrians— die each year in school bus–related crashes. Of the 15 school bus–related pedestrian fatalities, two-thirds of the victims are struck by the school bus itself, while the remaining third are struck by other vehicles, many of whose drivers pass the school bus illegally while it is stopped to load or unload students. Comparable statistics regarding the safety of students being transported by other modes are not readily available. National statistics for the period 1991–1999 indicate, however, that an average of 810 school-age children were fatally injured annually during normal school travel hours (weekdays 6 a.m. to 8:59 a.m. and 2 p.m. to 4:59 p.m.)1 in typical school months (September through mid-June), while approximately 153,000 school-age children received nonfatal injuries. Just over 3.5 percent of these injured children were passengers on school buses, while only 0.025 percent were student pedestrians injured in school bus–related crashes, and 72 percent were riding in motor vehicles that were not buses of any type. The way in which children travel to and from school is influenced in part by school transportation policies and guidelines developed at the federal, state, and local levels; in part by parental choice; and in some cases, particularly with older schoolchildren, by student choice. At each level, decisions that are made can have a profound effect on the risks incurred. For example, students who live closer to the school than the minimum walking distance are necessarily depen- 1 The available data do not permit a breakdown of school travel–related injuries and fatalities according to whether they occurred en route to or from school. In this report, therefore, the term normal school travel hours, as defined here, is used to denote the overall period of interest.

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The Relative Risks of School Travel: A National Perspective and Guidance for Local Community Risk Assessment dent on other travel modes—most commonly walking, bicycling, or driving or riding in a passenger vehicle. Since the various travel modes are associated with different safety risks, any shift in modes—e.g., from school buses to walking, bicycling, or riding in a passenger vehicle—that results from changing the minimum walking distance will have an effect on school travel safety. Federal, state, and local lawmakers, as well as state and local administrators who implement school-related transportation policies, place great importance on the safety of children traveling to and from school. However, if adequate information about the risks of alternative modes is not available when policy decisions are made or if this information is ignored, policies and regulations designed to support this goal may in fact increase risks. Further, the data most useful to federal lawmakers may not be the same as those most useful for state and local policy makers (including state legislators and school board members). And the data most helpful to local administrators (e.g., local school district officials, school principals, transportation directors, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act coordinators) may be quite different from those needed by others involved in making school-related transportation decisions (e.g., parents, students), often at a student-specific level. Legislative History Faced with reduced funding and pressures to spend available funds on non-transportation-related items, some school districts and transit agencies are examining the potential for relying more heavily on transit services for school transportation. Transit services in large urban areas have long been used to transport students, particularly those in high school and junior high school. Some smaller communities, particularly in rural areas, have integrated a variety of pupil transportation, social service transportation, and public transit services to improve efficiency and lower costs. Similarly, school districts and elected officials in other communities have begun to explore the potential for coordinating transportation services for students with those for the elderly, the disabled, and other special-needs groups. Such approaches have been debated in several state legislatures during the last 20 years. At the behest of its legislature, for example, the state of Iowa sponsored six pilot projects during the 1980s to test various models of coordinated service. Likewise, the state of Washington provided grants to 12 communities for such projects in 1999 and 2000, although not all of these projects involved transit or pupil transportation services. Many small urban, suburban, and rural transit agencies, experiencing declining ridership and increasing costs, are attracted to the possibility of adding schoolchildren to their ridership. Similarly, many communities without transit services view coordination with pupil transportation services as an opportunity to provide service to other riders for whom public transportation would otherwise be unaffordable. In this context, hearings in the U.S. Senate in April 1996 on school transportation safety raised questions regarding what is known about the safety of

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The Relative Risks of School Travel: A National Perspective and Guidance for Local Community Risk Assessment children who use public transit to travel to and from school. It was estimated that at the time, approximately 20 percent of school children in California were using public transit or paratransit to travel to and from school, and that in other states (e.g., Ohio), the use of public transit for this purpose was increasing. During the Senate hearings, interest in the safety of students traveling by school bus versus transit bus was broadened to include other, non-bus modes used to transport students to and from school. The focus was also expanded to include school-related trips in addition to those taken between home and school. It was noted that safety comparisons among the various modes could not be made because the data needed for such comparisons were not readily available. In 1998, a provision of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) (see the appendix) mandated that the Transportation Research Board (TRB) undertake a study “of the safety issues attendant to the transportation of school children to and from school and school-related activities by various transportation modes.” In the process, the study was to take into account available crash-injury data, as well as vehicle design and driver-training requirements, routing, and operational factors that affect safety. If crash-injury data were found to be unavailable or insufficient, a new data collection regimen and implementation guidelines were to be recommended. Since the Senate hearings were held, interest in the issue of school transportation safety has been heightened even further by reports and recommendations issued by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB 1998; NTSB 1999a; NTSB 1999b; NTSB 2000) and others, including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) (NHTSA 1998) and the Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) (TRB 1999). Yet many questions remain unanswered. CHARGE TO THE COMMITTEE The Committee on School Transportation Safety was formed to conduct the study mandated by TEA-21. The committee was charged to address safety issues related to the transportation of school-age children to and from school and school-related activities by various modes, and in the process to review available injury, fatality, and exposure data. The committee was also tasked to examine other, related factors, including operating characteristics, vehicle design, and driver and passenger training. In addition, the committee was directed to assess the efficacy of drawing conclusions from the available data, given the statistical confidence in the data and their relevance to the issues being addressed. The study charge included considering the basic characteristics of the modes used for student travel; their operational differences; and the infrastructure, environmental, and other conditions that affect them. If data were deemed unavailable or insufficient, the committee was asked to recommend new data collection methods and implementation guidelines. In undertaking these tasks, the committee was to examine both occupant and nonoccupant (i.e., pedestrian) injury and fatality rates, taking into account the behavioral and developmental characteristics of children, which affect their travel skills and vulnerability.

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The Relative Risks of School Travel: A National Perspective and Guidance for Local Community Risk Assessment STUDY SCOPE In conducting this study, the committee did not specifically address issues and risks associated with the transportation of special-needs students or infants, toddlers, and preschool children. These two categories of children often have unique needs and must be considered individually. For example, children with special needs (such as those in wheelchairs) may need to be picked up directly at their doorway and be attended to while en route to school. Infants, toddlers, and preschool children must ride in child safety seats (even in school buses), a requirement that presents unique problems based on the type of vehicle being used. The committee also did not examine separately the risks associated with transportation to and from nonpublic schools because information about pupil transportation for such schools is not available in many states. However, given the committee’s use of the concept of normal school travel hours, which is based on time of day without respect to purpose of trip, the exposure data employed for the study (i.e., number of trips and passenger-miles) include travel for all children between 5 and 18 years of age, regardless of type of school or purpose of trip, during this period. The committee also did not examine the coordination and integration of pupil transportation and transit services. For a comprehensive discussion of issues relevant to this practice (including 15 case studies of nonurban communities in which such coordination or integration has been effected), the reader is referred to the TCRP report Integrating School Bus and Public Transportation Services in Non-Urban Communities (TRB 1999). As noted above, the focus of this study was not restricted to children traveling to and from school, but encompassed their travel to and from school-related activities.2 As discussed more fully in Chapters 2 and 3, however, crash data for school-related trips—which comprise roughly 4 percent of all school transportation (R. Leeds, personal communication, Feb. 27, 2001)—are not directly available. In most instances, these data must be inferred from other information that may be recorded on police accident reports. Compounding the difficulty of drawing conclusions from such data, different types and mixes of vehicles are often used for school-related purposes, and some trips do not occur during the above-defined school travel hours. Hence, the data and analyses presented in this report are restricted to crashes that occurred during normal school travel hours. Those school-related activity trips that occurred during normal school travel hours are included in the analyses, but could not be separated out for more focused analysis. A recent procedural change effected in some local school districts has added to the difficulty of collecting and analyzing injury data related to school travel. Should a crash involving a school bus occur, many students may be transported to a medical facility for evaluation and later determined to have sustained minor or no injuries (L. Kostyniuk, presentation to the committee at its first meeting, 2 A school-related activity, also known as an activity trip, is defined as “the transportation of students to any event sanctioned for pupil attendance or authorized by an officer, employee or agent of a public or private school, other than to-and-from school transportation” (NCST 2000, 163).

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The Relative Risks of School Travel: A National Perspective and Guidance for Local Community Risk Assessment July 14, 2000). The “required medical attention” classification on the police accident report may include the total number of students transported to the hospital, or possibly all bus passengers, among them those who were not injured in any way. The result in such cases is an inflated number of reported “pupil passenger injuries.” Furthermore, there is no documented correlation between school bus crashes and medically documented injuries at the scene. Linkage to emergency department data could provide this missing information. As noted in Special Report 222 (TRB 1989, 46): The number of persons injured each year in school bus–related accidents and the severity of the injuries they sustain are not well known. There is no national census or representative sample of school bus– related accidents, no systematic count of injuries suffered in these accidents, and no rigorous assessment of the degree to which passengers are injured. In the absence of such information, only gross estimates of the frequency and severity of injuries resulting from school bus–related accidents are available. This discrepancy is also true of other modes used to transport students. Though the committee acknowledges the gaps in and poor quality of some of the data, it believes insights can be gleaned through analysis of existing datasets. Indeed, for this study, the committee used existing data to refine risk estimates so they can be used to inform policy discussions. Finally, the committee recognizes that personal safety or security issues are important to a comprehensive assessment of student transportation safety. The major concern is that trips to and from school may place students at risk from older, larger students or predatory adults on all modes of travel (TRB 1999). However, an assessment of these issues is beyond the scope of this report. ANALYZING THE SAFETY OF SCHOOL TRAVEL Ideally, a detailed risk analysis should be used to aid decision makers at all levels of government in making choices about school travel alternatives and establishing policies and guidelines to effect such choices. A risk analysis that identifies crash scenarios, probabilities of occurrence, and potential outcomes can enable decision makers to identify and evaluate effective and efficient risk mitigation options and to choose those options that minimize risk commensurate with their practicality and affordability. To conduct this type of analysis, one must identify the various modes used for school travel, obtain and analyze quantitative data on the relative safety of these modes, obtain better injury data, identify the risk factors associated with travel to and from school, develop a perspective that integrates the many components of the school transportation system, and apply a risk management framework. Such a comprehensive effort was not possible for the committee. Instead, this report presents an effective and feasible risk management framework, whereby modal comparisons using a

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The Relative Risks of School Travel: A National Perspective and Guidance for Local Community Risk Assessment quantitative risk assessment based on national statistics are used to identify important risks, and checklists, based on empirical research and recognized best practices, are used to suggest options for reducing these risks commensurate with local needs and resources. Modes Used for School Travel Depending on the level of detail used, it is possible to define many travel modes for children going to and from school (e.g., sport utility vehicle, pickup truck, taxi, subway, 10-passenger bus). For many of these individual modes, however, crash, injury, fatality, trip, and other data needed to make relative safety comparisons are unavailable, insufficient, inadequate, or impossible to correlate. Thus the committee grouped the modes used for school travel into six broad categories for which sufficient data could be obtained to support the required analyses:3 School bus—A vehicle designed for carrying more than 10 persons,4 including the driver, that is operated by a public or private school or a private school bus contractor for the purpose of transporting children (prekindergarten through grade 12) to and from school and school-related activities (excluding chartered5 and transit buses). A school bus must meet all applicable federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSSs). Other bus—A vehicle designed to carry more than 10 persons, including the driver. Included are transit buses, coaches or motorcoaches, and other bus types that generally provide transportation services under contract. A transit bus is defined as a bus with front and back-center doors and low-back seating, which is operated on a fixed schedule and route to provide public transportation at designated bus stops. Other buses meet all applicable FMVSSs, but do not meet school bus FMVSSs. Passenger vehicle6 with adult driver (i.e., driver age 19 and over)—A motorized vehicle owned or operated by an individual or company that is designed for carrying fewer than 10 passengers, goods, or equipment. For purposes of this report, this category includes passenger cars, passenger vans (both minivans and full-size vans), sport utility vehicles, pickup trucks, other trucks, recreational vehicles, and taxicabs (vehicles for hire that carry passengers). Passenger vehicle with teen driver (i.e., driver below age 19)—A motorized vehicle driven by a driver younger than 19 years of age and designed for carrying fewer than 10 passengers, goods, or equipment. For purposes of this report, this category includes the same vehicle types cited for the preceding category. 3 It should be noted that the definitions of these categories are general descriptions. For the analyses carried out in this report, the particular definitions for the various vehicle types were specific to the databases employed. 4 Under federal law, each wheelchair location in a vehicle is equivalent to four seating positions. 5 A school-chartered bus is defined as “a ‘bus’ that is operated under a short-term contract with State or school authorities who have acquired the exclusive use of the vehicle at a fixed charge to provide transportation for a group of students to a special school-related event” (NHTSA 1998). 6 The term passenger vehicle refers to motor vehicles excluding school buses and other buses.

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The Relative Risks of School Travel: A National Perspective and Guidance for Local Community Risk Assessment Bicycle—Includes all pedalcycles (one, two, or three wheels). Scooters are not included in this category, but in the next. Walking—Travel from one location to another on foot; also includes scooters, rollerblading, and skateboarding. Although the detailed analyses discussed in Chapter 3 make modal comparisons only among the six classes of modes identified above, this is not to imply that other modes are not used for travel to and from school. These other modes include passenger rail (heavy rail, light rail, and trolley service) operated either underground (i.e., subway), above ground (i.e., elevated), or “at grade.” It is also important to note that, although students often go directly to school in the morning, they may take very different trips returning home in the afternoon. Not only may the modes used be different, but the routing, timing, and actual destinations may vary from day to day and season to season across the school year because of extracurricular activities, jobs, friends, and the like. This variation greatly complicates the analysis and makes it difficult to define what is meant by a school trip. Moreover, most trips to and from school are divided into segments that use different modes. For example, a student who rides a school bus or other bus to and from school must also get to and from the bus stop. These trip segments are often made by walking or riding in a passenger vehicle. Since each of these segments involves a different mode, each has unique risks. Therefore, different means of reducing or managing the risks associated with the various trip segments will be needed. Quantitative Data Analyses NHTSA has stated that “school bus transportation is one of the safest forms of transportation in the United States” (NHTSA 1998, 1). This statement is based in part on a strict comparison of the fatality rates (fatalities per 100 million vehicle-miles traveled) for school buses versus all other vehicles used for all purposes. Though the fatality rate per vehicle-mile is the most commonly used measure of motor vehicle safety, by itself it does not provide sufficient insight into the relative safety of school buses and other modes used for school travel, including other vehicle types, bicycling, and walking. To perform this type of analysis, which is central to the committee’s charge, in-depth analyses using other risk measures (e.g., injuries or fatalities per student-mile or student trip) were conducted using the available quantitative data. The national crash databases that the committee found useful for these analyses were the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) for fatality counts and the General Estimates System (GES) for injury counts. These databases include only data on crashes in which a motor vehicle is involved. The committee found no accessible, comprehensive national databases that reflect pedestrian and bicycling fatalities and injuries not involving a motor vehicle. Despite this and other limitations of these databases, which are discussed in Chapter 2, FARS and GES do provide insights into the relative safety of walking and bicycling when they interact with the other modes.

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The Relative Risks of School Travel: A National Perspective and Guidance for Local Community Risk Assessment To provide a context (in terms of exposure) for the information obtained from FARS and GES, the committee used data from the 1995 Nationwide Personal Transportation Survey (NPTS). This survey contains information on the 1-day travel behavior of members of thousands of households in the United States. It can be used to obtain national-level estimates of the number of trips taken and number of miles traveled by children during school travel hours, broken down by mode, age of students, and geographic location (urban versus rural). The committee conducted its analyses using the 1991–1999 data contained in FARS and GES to obtain national estimates of the numbers of fatalities and injuries, respectively, among students traveling during normal school travel hours (as defined above), using the same categorizations as those employed by NPTS. The results of these analyses are presented in detail in Chapter 3. Risk Factors Related to School Travel Safety The committee identified five categories of risk factors associated with student travel to and from school: (a) human, (b) vehicular, (c) operational, (d) infrastructure/environmental, and (e) societal. Human factors for both passengers and drivers include elements such as age, experience, training, and qualifications. Vehicle factors include mass; design characteristics (e.g., structure, suspension systems); color and conspicuity; and vehicle operating characteristics, such as power steering and braking. Operational factors include characteristics of the trip itself, such as trip length, time of day, origin, and destination, as well as policy and procedural factors, such as training, monitoring, evaluation, supervision, and enforcement. Infrastructure/environmental factors include weather, roadway conditions, and traffic. Finally, societal factors include general health and fitness issues, as well as quality of life, security, liability, and diversity. All of these factors have implications for the safety of each mode used for student travel to and from school. To highlight these implications and to help decision makers recognize opportunities for risk reduction, the committee consolidated important risk factors into safety checklists for each mode. Discussion of these risk factors and the safety checklists are presented in Chapter 4. System Perspective To determine how to maximize safe and efficient school travel, the complete system, including the vehicle, the driver, the traveler, and the route or path, must be considered. Doing so provides a balanced view of the interaction among the various components involved in school travel. To apply this approach, the many complex relationships among modes, particular vehicles, passengers, drivers, and the operating environment must be understood. A range of other factors must also be considered, including safety, security, and other societal concerns (e.g., liability, equity); policy directives, planning, and leadership; infrastructure and environmental conditions (including issues related to the facility or school); and vehicle design and equipment. Moreover, managing the risks associated with school travel requires involvement and a shared commitment among the various interested parties—policy makers, transportation plan-

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The Relative Risks of School Travel: A National Perspective and Guidance for Local Community Risk Assessment ners and system design experts, traffic engineers and public works officials, school administrators, transportation officials, management and staff, parents, and students. Effective communication among these parties, a well-documented training program, and procedures for managing risk are also necessary. Risk Management Framework A risk management framework that combines quantitative risk assessment with use of the more qualitative safety checklists described above and that reflects a system perspective can be used to examine the safety of all major modes used for school and school-related travel. Using this framework, the safety/risk issues related to travel for school and school-related activities can be identified, prioritized, and used to make informed policy decisions at the federal, state, and local levels. The committee believes implementation of this framework can help ensure that new policies will be justifiable, well focused, and unlikely to cause changes in the distribution of travel modes that will unintentionally increase risk. ORGANIZATION OF THE REPORT In this report, crash and injury data and risk estimates for school transportation by the six categories of modes detailed above are presented. Key risk factors are summarized, and potential safety countermeasures to address these factors are identified, although recommendations about specific countermeasures are not made. A brief description of the national datasets (NPTS, GES, and FARS) used by the committee in its risk assessment is provided in Chapter 2. In Chapter 3, risk measures based on injury and fatality rates calculated using the national data described in Chapter 2 are developed. In Chapter 4, five categories of risk factors associated with school travel are presented, and safety checklists that can be used by decision makers to identify intervention opportunities for addressing those factors are provided. Three scenarios involving hypothetical schools are offered in Chapter 5 to demonstrate how quantitative analyses in the risk management framework can be applied and to illustrate how changes in transportation policy can affect the overall risk for a particular school. The committee’s findings and its recommendations to federal, state, and local policy makers and administrators for reducing risks and enhancing safety for students traveling to and from school are contained in Chapter 6. REFERENCES Abbreviations NCST National Conference on School Transportation NHTSA National Highway Traffic Safety Administration NTSB National Transportation Safety Board TRB Transportation Research Board NCST. 2000. National School Transportation Specifications and Procedures, 2000 Revised Edition. Proceedings of the Thirteenth National Conference on School Transportation. Central Missouri State University, Warrensburg.

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The Relative Risks of School Travel: A National Perspective and Guidance for Local Community Risk Assessment NHTSA. 1998. School Bus Safety: Safe Passage for America’s Children. Washington, D.C. NTSB. 1998. Transit Bus Safety Oversight. Highway Special Investigation Report NTSB/SIR-98/03. Washington, D.C. NTSB. 1999a. Bus Crashworthiness Issues. Highway Special Investigation Report NTSB/SIR-99/04. Washington, D.C. NTSB. 1999b. Pupil Transportation in Vehicles Not Meeting Federal Standard School Bus Standards. Highway Special Investigation Report NTSB/SIR-99/02. Washington, D.C. NTSB. 2000. Putting Children First: Child and Youth Initiative to Achieve One Level of Safety for All Children. Report NTSB/SR-00/02. Washington, D.C. TRB. 1989. Special Report 222: Improving School Bus Safety. National Research Council, Washington, D.C. TRB. 1999. TCRP Report 56: Integrating School Bus and Public Transportation Services in Non-Urban Communities. National Research Council, Washington, D.C.