Buses are part of our daily life in the USA, from the time we start school to the time we begin commuting to our jobs.

Of course, it is not uncommon that buses are involved in minor and serious accidents on our roads. You may be a passenger in a bus involved in an accident, or a bicycle or pedestrian hit by a bus, or a car, truck or motorcycle involved in an accident with a bus.

Buses are large vehicles and like semi trucks and tractor trailers, the increased weight and mass of the vehicle itself means that the repercussions of a bus accident are too often serious. According to the NHTSA (National Highway Transportation Safety Administration) National Research Data (NRD) 1999-2003, buses account yearly for, "18,430 injuries on average, and 40 fatalities." [3]

Who is responsible for your injuries in a bus accident? The answer to this question can be quite complicated.

The proper parties must be identified for your claim early on by your attorney. For instance, in Portland, if you were involved in a Tri Met Bus or Light Rail accident, Tri Met actually handles their own insurance claims internally; that is Tri Met functions as their own insurance company with their own representatives who will negotiate your accident injury claim with you.

However if the accident occurred with a different bus line, the proper defendants must be identified and could have mutliple variables. If the accident is blamed on faulty maintenance of the bus such as a brake failure, and the bus maintenance was contracted out to a separate bus maintenance company and not done by the bus owner, there may be several responsible parties to name in your injury claim.

It is also vital to your case that you talk to a personal injury attorney as soon as you are able to after a bus accident. Depending on the type of bus, the ownership and insurance coverage of the bus owner, the procedures and time frames within which to file an injury claim may greatly differ. It is best for your interest after a bus accident to get legal advice as soon as possible. The representatives of the bus or their insurance adjusters are working for the bus company and their aim is to pay you as little as possible for your bus accident claim; you need someone on your side who is working to protect your rights. It is also in your interest to be wary of the bus adjusters and company representatives who will be trying to talk to you after a bus accident; they may want you to make statements, etc.

It is in your interest to talk to an experienced bus accident attorney before doing anything that could jeopardize your rights to make a personal injury claim. Because of all the individual rules and procedures that may be unique to your case, it is vital that you don't make a mistake early on that threatens your case and your legal rights to make a bus accident injury claim.

How common are bus accidents?

One of the earliest buses you may have ridden was a yellow school bus, and this might have been your most frequent period of bus ridership. According to the NHTSA (National Highway Transportation Safety Administration) and NRD (National Research Data), "An average of 20 school-age children die in school transportation-related traffic crashes each year – 5 occupants of school transportation vehicles and 14 pedestrians." [1] As such, we can see that pedestrian accidents are much more common in school age children fatalities than school bus crashes Still, this data and emphasis on fatalities belies the frequency that school buses may be involved in auto accidents whether they are collided with or whether the school bus strikes a pedestrian or bicycle or other vehicle.

School buses, and many buses you may find yourself riding, don't have seat belts. The importance of seat belts in a non fatality school bus accident is arguably very important. Given how ubiquitous buses are in our rural, urban and suburban environments, it still surprises me that seat belts are not also more ubiquitous on all buses, at least and especially school buses. The seriousness of injury can be worse for instance in a minor commuter bus accident where passengers may be standing and significantly thrown around within the bus during even a minor traffic accident. Especially in rural and suburban areas children ride the bus at highway speeds and often in inclement weather for most of the school year; the dangers of accidents on these NW roads are real for all vehicles traveling from weather and natural causes such as fallen trees and rocks, not just other automobiles.

Some researchers, psychologists and parents worry that school buses without seat belts has “carry over effects” on children given that it is against the law to not where a seat belt and properly buckle in minors into our personal vehicles; basically we send mixed messages on this issue to our most vulnerable populations. In fact, the seat belts in school buses is a fairly hot issues. The Department of Transportation has research on this subject, "School Bus Seat Belts Carry Over Effect On Elementary School Age Children." [2] In addition, on the Center for Automotive Safety website (begun by Consumers Union and Ralph Nader in 1970) continues to have news on the lack of seat belts on school buses.

If you are interested in the school bus lack of seat belts safety issue, you can learn more about the politics shaping the issue at National Coalition for School Bus Safety in addition to the NHTSA.gov where you can find raw data and facts, as well as the latest in crash safety research conducted by transportation research experts.

To get a better idea and more accurate idea of bus accident frequency, including the safety of school buses, commonality of injuries in a bigger picture:

NRD NHTSA traffic safety facts reports from data 1999-2003

  • Thirty percent of bus occupant fatalities result from intercity bus crashes, 24% from school bus crashes and 14% from transit bus crashes.
  • Forty percent of bus occupant injuries result from school bus crashes, 24% from intercity bus crashes and 23% from transit bus crashes.
  • An average of 49 pedestrians and 9 pedal-cyclists per year are killed in crashes with buses.
  • An average of 11 bus occupants per year are killed in two vehicle crashes while 162 occupants per year of other vehicles are killed. (102 occupants in passenger cars, 49 in light trucks 0 in motorcycles, 2 in large trucks).
  • An average of 12, 000 bus occupants per year is injured in two vehicle crashes while 8,800 occupants per year of other vehicles are injured. (6,000 in passenger cars and 2,800 in light trucks).
  • School age occupants, ages 5-20, account for 24% of bus occupants killed.
  • Forty percent of bus occupant injuries result from school bus crashes, 24% from intercity bus crashes and 23% from transit bus crashes.
  • Occupants over the age of 55 years account for 43% of bus occupants killed.
  • Twenty eight percent of bus occupant fatalities result from occupant ejection, 53% from non-ejected fatal impacts and 19% were unknown.

[Data/Fact Source: NHTSA [3] Publication]

Further, according to this NIAR's Crash Dynamics Laboratory study at Wichita State University, “occupant kinematics injury mechanisms to bus passenger show, most common injury to bus passengers are head (HIC) and neck injuries (neck extension, flexion and compression). These injures are due to body-body contact between unrestrained passengers and/or body-to-seat structure contacts.” [3]

This Wichita Crash Laboratory study is very detailed with interesting findings about the size and seating designs of buses in relation to passenger injuries; if you're interested, it is worth reading and may weight your risk assessment decisions in the future when you are traveling by bus.


[1] School Transportation-Related Crashes (NHTSA Publication DOT HS 810 813 - Traffic Safety Facts 2006 Data)

[3] Injury Mechanisms To Mass Transit Bus Passengers During Frontal, Side And Rear Impact Crash Scenarios (NHTSA Publication) - Source for NRD NHTSA traffic safety facts reports from data 1999-2003