6
Conclusions and Recommendations

Students use many modes to travel to and from school and school-related activities. As the scenarios in Chapter 5 demonstrate, the risk factors associated with these modes are complex and highly interrelated. Changes in any one characteristic of school travel can lead to dramatic changes in the overall risk to the student population. Thus, it is important for school transportation decisions to reflect input from those representing a spectrum of disciplines and perspectives, including policy makers, transportation planners, traffic engineers, school administrators, drivers, parents and students, and possibly others who may have knowledge or expertise regarding the use and safety of the various modes used for school travel.

For this study, the committee grouped the modes used for school travel into six broad categories for analysis: (a) school buses, (b) all other buses, (c) passenger vehicles with adult drivers, (d) passenger vehicles with teen drivers, (e) bicycles, and (f ) walking. Estimates of relative risk among these modes were developed using available information collected at the national level. Because data on trip purpose are not included in the available datasets, the data analyzed were deaths, injuries, number of trips, and student miles traveled during normal school travel hours.

It must be recognized, of course, that school districts, parents, and school-age children choose travel modes for many reasons other than safety. The approach suggested by the committee is to balance safety- and non-safety-related factors. The committee believes this reconciliation can best be achieved when a broad range of factors and perspectives is considered, and when choices are supported with accurate data and perceptive, experienced observations.

QUANTITATIVE ANALYSES

The Nationwide Personal Transportation Survey (NPTS) was used to obtain data on the number of trips made and miles traveled by school-age children during normal school travel hours. The Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) and the General Estimates System (GES) datasets were used to obtain outcome data (number of fatalities and number of injuries) for school-age children during these same time periods. The data were then grouped into age groupings and combined across multiple years to reduce the effects of anomalies in the data and allow the development of more robust estimates.

Using the NPTS dataset, it was determined that school bus service accounts for approximately 25 percent of trips and 28 percent of student-miles traveled during normal school travel hours and other buses for about 2 to 3 percent of trips and student-miles traveled. Passenger vehicles (with adult and teen drivers)



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement



Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.

OCR for page 159
The Relative Risks of School Travel: A National Perspective and Guidance for Local Community Risk Assessment 6 Conclusions and Recommendations Students use many modes to travel to and from school and school-related activities. As the scenarios in Chapter 5 demonstrate, the risk factors associated with these modes are complex and highly interrelated. Changes in any one characteristic of school travel can lead to dramatic changes in the overall risk to the student population. Thus, it is important for school transportation decisions to reflect input from those representing a spectrum of disciplines and perspectives, including policy makers, transportation planners, traffic engineers, school administrators, drivers, parents and students, and possibly others who may have knowledge or expertise regarding the use and safety of the various modes used for school travel. For this study, the committee grouped the modes used for school travel into six broad categories for analysis: (a) school buses, (b) all other buses, (c) passenger vehicles with adult drivers, (d) passenger vehicles with teen drivers, (e) bicycles, and (f ) walking. Estimates of relative risk among these modes were developed using available information collected at the national level. Because data on trip purpose are not included in the available datasets, the data analyzed were deaths, injuries, number of trips, and student miles traveled during normal school travel hours. It must be recognized, of course, that school districts, parents, and school-age children choose travel modes for many reasons other than safety. The approach suggested by the committee is to balance safety- and non-safety-related factors. The committee believes this reconciliation can best be achieved when a broad range of factors and perspectives is considered, and when choices are supported with accurate data and perceptive, experienced observations. QUANTITATIVE ANALYSES The Nationwide Personal Transportation Survey (NPTS) was used to obtain data on the number of trips made and miles traveled by school-age children during normal school travel hours. The Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) and the General Estimates System (GES) datasets were used to obtain outcome data (number of fatalities and number of injuries) for school-age children during these same time periods. The data were then grouped into age groupings and combined across multiple years to reduce the effects of anomalies in the data and allow the development of more robust estimates. Using the NPTS dataset, it was determined that school bus service accounts for approximately 25 percent of trips and 28 percent of student-miles traveled during normal school travel hours and other buses for about 2 to 3 percent of trips and student-miles traveled. Passenger vehicles (with adult and teen drivers)

OCR for page 159
The Relative Risks of School Travel: A National Perspective and Guidance for Local Community Risk Assessment represent 60 percent of trips and 66 percent of student-miles traveled. Student pedestrian travel accounts for 12 percent of trips, but only 1 percent of student-miles. (See Tables 2-2 and 2-3 in Chapter 2, as well as the tables in Annexes 2-1 and 2-2, for a breakdown of the data.) Approximately 75 percent of the deaths and 84 percent of the injuries resulting from crashes during normal school travel hours occurred in the two passenger vehicle categories, while only 2 percent of deaths and 4 percent of injuries occurred on school buses. Fatalities and injuries to student bicyclists and pedestrians involved in crashes represent the next-largest share—22 percent and 11 percent, respectively. (See Tables 2-6 through 2-11 in Chapter 2 for a breakdown of the fatality and injury data.) Three modes (school buses, other buses, and passenger vehicles with adult drivers) have injury estimates and fatality counts below those expected on the basis of the exposure to risk implied by the number of trips taken and student-miles traveled. Conversely, the other three modal classifications (passenger vehicles with teen drivers, bicycling, and walking) have estimated injury rates and fatality counts disproportionately greater than expected on the basis of exposure data. For example, passenger vehicles with teen drivers account for more than half of the injuries and fatalities, a much greater proportion than the 14–16 percent that would be expected (see Table 3-3 in Chapter 3). IDENTIFYING AND MANAGING RISK The committee developed a risk assessment process in which quantitative estimates of travel mode risk derived from national statistics (or other sources) can be combined with local student demographics and travel mode distributions to calculate risk estimates for a school or region. Using this process, school officials and families can better understand, prioritize, and manage the risks of school travel. Moreover, the effects of changing the relative safety of a mode or shifting students among modes can be appreciated. In particular, the committee’s approach can highlight when policy changes intended to improve one aspect of safety inadvertently increase risks in other areas. Because the committee’s findings are based on national averages, exact risk reductions that would occur for a local school district using various risk mitigation measures cannot be determined. Each district has unique environmental and operational characteristics that result in different levels of risk associated with each mode. Shifts from those modes that are overrepresented in crashes (bicycling, walking, and passenger vehicles with teen drivers) to those that are underrepresented (school buses, other buses, and passenger vehicles with adult drivers) represent one way of lowering risks that should be considered. This is not, however, the only way to manage the risk associated with school travel; measures designed to enhance the safety of particular modes—e.g., changing school bus pickup and drop-off locations, changing passenger vehicle pickup and drop-off locations, enforcing bicycle helmet laws, and implementing and enforcing graduated driver licensing programs—can also be employed. To help inform the risk mitigation evaluation process, the committee has also created

OCR for page 159
The Relative Risks of School Travel: A National Perspective and Guidance for Local Community Risk Assessment for each school travel mode safety checklists that delineate opportunities that have been shown to reduce risk or are accepted as best practice. Combining quantitative risk assessment measures with these safety checklists creates a risk management framework that can be used to provide guidance to those who must make many types of safety-related school travel decisions. The risk management framework can help inform local decisions on such matters as school siting, student parking policies, and changes in the minimum walking distance (the distance from school below which school bus service is not provided). The framework reveals, for example, that absent the provision of adequate infrastructure for pedestrians and bicyclists, other policy decisions (e.g., a simple change in the minimum walking distance from 1 to 2 miles) could increase the overall risk. As another example, a decision to accommodate more teen driving by increasing the number of parking spaces at a suburban high school could increase injury and fatality risks significantly. Alternatively, a policy of closing the school campus during school hours would improve safety by eliminating student motor vehicle and pedestrian trips for lunches off campus, running of errands, and similar purposes. Altering the environment and infrastructure to improve the safety of a mode is another approach to be considered. Risk estimates developed in Chapter 3 can also be helpful to local and state transportation agencies in making more informed decisions regarding the allocation of available funds for infrastructure improvements designed to reduce situations in which motor vehicles, pedestrians, and bicyclists conflict with one another. These estimates can assist as well in determining the advisability of policies to address bicycling safety (such as helmet laws); strategies to improve occupant safety (such as laws mandating use of safety belts); strategies to reduce the risks of teen driving (such as graduated licensing programs already enacted in many states); and modifications to the environment to avoid conflict at school sites among pedestrians, bicyclists, and motor vehicles. More evaluation and research are needed to assist state and local decision makers in reducing student risk in the most cost-effective manner. To increase the likelihood of implementing effective policies, it is important to have input and support from all stakeholders. To this end, there must be open communication in sharing information on policies, procedures, and guidelines that enhance safety. If the participants in such a process understand the risks associated with the various modes and the means by which those risks can be reduced, they can work cooperatively to achieve safety improvements. Knowledge of the relative risks of the various modes can be used by communities to focus resources on those modal improvements for which the expenditure of resources can effect the greatest safety improvements. A well-thought-out risk management program that measures the risks and benefits of the various modes and identifies a set of reasonable risk mitigation alternatives for each mode would facilitate relevant discussions among the stakeholders. Recommendation 1: School transportation planners and policy makers at all levels should analyze transportation risks comprehensively in their decision making related to school travel.

OCR for page 159
The Relative Risks of School Travel: A National Perspective and Guidance for Local Community Risk Assessment Application of the results of risk analyses—a major component of the committee’s risk management framework that is illustrated in Chapter 5—reveals how decisions affecting one mode of school travel influence the risks faced by users of other modes. Decisions about such issues as increasing or decreasing student parking, changing the minimum walking distance, and providing bus services can significantly affect overall risk in ways that may not appear obvious. The risk management framework can highlight the importance of such choices and allow a full appreciation of their implications. It does not, however, stand alone. School transportation planners and policy makers must also take into account budget constraints, local conditions and values, local data, and judgments about the relative safety and cost-effectiveness of alternative policies. Recommendation 2: Using a systematic risk management framework, school districts should identify the risk factors most salient for the modes of school travel used by children in their community and identify approaches that can be used to manage and reduce those risks, including shifts to safer modes and safety improvements within each mode. Each school district, and even schools within a district, will have different conditions and requirements that will affect school travel risks and the choices of officials and parents for reducing those risks. When resources permit, districts should support strategies that promote safety, such as reducing the number of teen drivers, designing bus services to better meet needs (e.g., offering early and late bus services, and providing bus services to different morning and afternoon locations), as deemed appropriate for that school or district. Districts can also adopt policies designed to support walking and bicycling to school in order to promote healthy lifestyles after carefully assessing the adequacy of side-walks, bicycling paths, crosswalks, and other supporting infrastructure and safety measures, and making improvements where needed. Recommendation 3: The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) should disseminate information presented in this study on the relative risks of using various modes of travel for school and school-related activities and on possible ways to mitigate the risks. USDOT should also use this information to assess what role, if any, federal policy makers should have in efforts to improve the transportation safety of school children and the cost-effectiveness of specific safety measures. State and local legislators, school boards, parent–teacher associations, private and church schools, parents, students, and the media all play a role in decisions about school transportation. The national-level data presented in this report provide a starting point for such decision making by highlighting the considerable differences in risk across modes of travel. Local risk estimates will differ from these national estimates, however. School officials, as well as state

OCR for page 159
The Relative Risks of School Travel: A National Perspective and Guidance for Local Community Risk Assessment and local officials responsible for transportation facilities and operations, parents, and others, need information on how to assess the adequacy of their school transportation systems. They also need information on the relative risks and cost-effectiveness of various safety measures, and on how to promote safety across and within modes in the most cost-effective ways. Such information is currently lacking. DATA Numerous databases contain information related to transportation safety. Most of these databases, however, were not useful for this study because they do not allow comparison across modes so that exposure to risk can be analyzed in a consistent manner. One of the primary responsibilities and contributions of the agencies whose mission encompasses issues related to school transportation is to collect good, accurate, reliable data. Current data are illuminating, but not complete. Yet obtaining more thorough and complete data is not without cost. Given the large number of fatalities and injuries that occur on highways in the United States and the relatively small proportion that involve students during normal school travel hours, the benefits of additional data collection efforts focused solely on school travel should be carefully considered before such efforts are recommended or implemented. At present, the lack of uniformity in local- and state-level data collection requirements and methodology, together with the lack of consistency in definitions and interpretations across and within datasets, makes it difficult and often impossible to address student as well as other transportation issues of interest. An integrated data system (one in which different databases would use many of the same variables, definitions, and data collection procedures) is needed to enable a better understanding of the risks associated with the various modes of travel, not just for school transportation safety, but for highway safety in general. If performed correctly, a consistent, comprehensive data collection effort could benefit school transportation as well. Recommendation 4: The compatibility and completeness of existing databases should be examined and improved by USDOT and other agencies to allow development of better risk estimates. To the extent possible, critical data elements (e.g., vehicle classifications, roadway classifications) should be included and defined consistently in all the datasets. The three data sources relied upon in this report—NPTS, FARS, and GES— are the best available but are not fully compatible because of different variables, definitions, and classifications. A first step would be for USDOT and other appropriate agencies to explore the possibility of changing definitions and classifications to make them more consistent. Doing so would enable the development of more precise risk estimates than could be accomplished in this study. Similarly, it may be possible to adjust for weaknesses in one or more of these datasets

OCR for page 159
The Relative Risks of School Travel: A National Perspective and Guidance for Local Community Risk Assessment by examining other datasets. For example, GES excludes nontraffic injuries, such as a fall from a bicycle when no motor vehicle is involved, thus introducing a bias in the estimates. Sample data from hospital records on bicycling injuries might allow for adjustments to correct for such bias. Recommendation 5: USDOT and appropriate agencies, in consultation with outside experts, should analyze the advisability and cost-effectiveness of establishing and maintaining any new school transportation–related database. The committee encountered many difficulties in developing estimates of risk by mode for school travel and could develop only national-level estimates. Moreover, it was not possible to estimate the risk of travel for school-related activities because of a lack of relevant data. However, the magnitude of the school transportation safety problem does not appear to warrant major expenditures for new data collection efforts. Rather, cost-effective means of collecting new data using existing structures, both governmental and nongovernmental, should be explored and identified. The national school bus loading zone fatality survey conducted annually by the Kansas Department of Education, for example, is a volunteer data collection structure that has provided valuable information for more than 30 years at minimal cost. It is also important to know the purpose for which data are to be used before they are collected. It may be that estimates of cost-effectiveness and better estimates of risk can be derived by carrying out Recommendations 3 and 4 without the need for extensive new data collection; if not, it may be prudent to collect more and better data. Such choices, however, should be based on the policy decisions the data are expected to inform. SUMMARY Without doubt, travel of children to and from school is a complex and sensitive issue. Each travel mode has its attendant risks, which vary from community to community and school to school, and any shifts from one mode to another can have a marked effect on the overall safety of school travel for a particular community or school. A risk management framework can be used to identify, analyze, and prioritize the risks associated with student travel, and in turn to formulate interventions that can be used to manage these risks. Risk measures can be applied to analyze alternative policies at the state and local levels (as is demonstrated in the scenarios in Chapter 5), and various existing countermeasures can be implemented to reduce the risks to students who use the various modes (as discussed in Chapter 4). Each state, school district, and private school must assess its own situation and circumstances and apply the information presented in this report to make sound, informed decisions. The goal is to improve safety for all children traveling to and from school and school-related activities and to provide communities with the information needed to make informed choices that balance their needs and resources.