School-sports bus trips often lengthy, but safe

A school bus carrying a basketball team to a game travels many miles over snowy roadsIn Eastern Washington, school buses drive athletes up to 192 miles one way for league games. Does all that distance increase kids' accident risk, especially in winter?

Statistically, the more miles driven – especially on congested roads – means higher risk for collisions. You likely know that because the distance of your daily commute is one factor used to calculate your auto insurance rate.

Happily, collisions like the icy crash between two school buses that injured a Lincoln Heights Elementary student in Spokane are rare. A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) study of 2006–2015 data shows 54 school-age children died while riding as passengers in bus crashes nationally.

NHTSA reports that school buses are the safest vehicles on the road, with safety standards above and beyond those for regular buses. Students are about 70 times more likely to get to school safely when riding a school bus than when traveling by car, NHTSA says.

That's good news for our young student athletes, especially those who travel many miles across rural districts. Examples: On Jan. 13, Asotin High School basketball players rode 192 miles to Kettle Falls for a game. Basketball players from the Spokane-metro area's East Valley and West Valley high schools regularly ride to Clarkston (120 miles one way) and Pullman (89 miles) for league games.

On the west side, the Forks basketball team traveled 156 miles one way on Jan. 16 to play Tenino High School, a round-trip of nearly eight hours.

Student athletes ride a school bus to a distant gameLong trips are not strictly the domain of basketball teams. Teams play their league opponents twice in home-and-home games for every sport, in every season. School bands often travel to perform at events, too.

Then there are tournaments and playoffs, when distant teams yearn for the chance to travel to destinations like the Tacoma Dome (football), Yakima (class 2A, 1A basketball), Spokane (1B, 2B basketball, 4A softball), or Seattle's Safeco Field (3A, 4A baseball) – regardless of miles driven.

Overall, NHTSA data shows school bus fatalities account for a just a fraction of a percent of overall vehicle fatalities. Our students who travel to games are far safer doing so aboard school buses than in a family car driven by a cautious parent.

by  Jon Osterberg

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