- The Washington Times - Monday, April 18, 2005

Fatal school bus accidents such as yesterday’s crash in Arlington County are rare because school districts and bus contractors provide considerable training for drivers to avoid accidents, transportation safety officials say.

Yesterday’s accident was the first fatal school bus crash in Arlington County in at least 30 years, according to Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Robert Smith.

About 30 schoolchildren across the country die in bus-related accidents each year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Most of those killed are pedestrians, and nearly half are between the ages of 5 and 7.

Locally, seven persons have died in school bus-related crashes in the past six years:

• The driver of a minivan was killed in a collision with a bus carrying the Patuxent High School boys basketball team in January 2003.

• A 28-year-old woman was killed after her car collided with a Prince George’s County school bus in September 2002.

• A 20-year-old woman from Westminster, Md., died after her vehicle slid under a stopped Carroll County school bus in 2002.

• A 30-year-old woman was killed after her 1990 Ford Tempo crashed head-on into a Fauquier County school bus in July 2000.

• In May 2000, a bus driver was killed and three children were injured seriously after a truck pulling a flatbed carrying farm equipment jackknifed and ejected its load onto the oncoming school bus near Rockville.

• A 62-year-old woman was killed after her car struck a school bus head-on in December 1999 in Charles County, Md.

• A 35-year-old woman died after her car struck a bus carrying children to Harmony Hills Elementary School in Silver Spring in November 1998.

About 25 million students ride school buses every day, said Charlie Gauthier, spokesman for the School Bus Information Council.

Most school bus-related injuries occur within what the NHTSA calls “the danger zone” — a 10-foot area on all sides of the bus, where children are in the greatest danger of being hit. Last year, 26 students were killed as pedestrians while getting on or off a school bus.

Yesterday’s crash was the second serious school bus accident in the area this year.

On Feb. 22, a Prince George’s County school bus carrying 30 students tumbled 25 feet down a Temple Hills embankment. The accident was caused when the driver was distracted by her cell phone.

No one was injured seriously. The driver, whose name was not released, was charged with negligent driving.

Most states maintain strict traffic laws that forbid cars from passing school buses as they are loading or unloading children.

Virginia law requires drivers to stop when approaching school buses stopped to pick up or drop off passengers. A driver convicted of passing a stopped school bus receives a six-point violation that stays on his record for 11 years.

Safety officials urge drivers to avoid school bus-related accidents by stopping completely when a bus’s warning lights are flashing and by slowing down when buses and children are present.

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