Texas Watch

Safety by the Numbers: Inaccurate School Bus Crash Data

Safety by the Numbers: Inaccurate School Bus Crash Data

After a Houston ISD bus crash killed two students last month, reporters and officials looked to past accident data for comparison. But, after reviewing the data compiled by the Texas Education Agency one thing was clear: the numbers just didn’t add up.

As state law requires, school districts submit bus crash data to the Texas Education Agency each year. However, some school districts may interpret the questions differently and 16% of districts don’t report at all, officials say.

The report, which is compiled via a Survey Monkey quiz on the agency’s website, has led to outright statistical improbabilities. In the 2013-2014 survey, for example, the report lists eight pedestrian injuries. However, the detailed report tallies one fatal pedestrian injury and six non-fatal- a total of 7 pedestrian injuries.

The result of these faulty numbers is a foggy impression of what is keeping our kids safe and what is putting them in harm’s way. The most potent example is the seat belt debate.

A recent Houston Chronicle investigation detailed the demise of a 2007 mandate to equip school buses with seat belts. Lawmakers earmarked $10 million for the safety initiative, but six years later only $416,582 was used for the stated purpose.

The problem arose from a loophole in the 2007 mandate. The law required school districts to purchase future buses with three point belts, but only if the state could provide funding. When legislators allocated $10 million for an estimated $31 million per year project, districts, including Houston ISD, failed to apply for the initiative.

“In 2010, the Houston Independent School District and the Texas Education Agency had the historic opportunity to do the right thing. That gets you really frustrated.” – Steve Forman, father of student injured in 2006 school bus wreck

However, information that could help lawmakers prioritize school bus safety initiatives is woefully misreported. In 2012-2013, districts reported a total of 2,288 school bus accidents. But, when asked how many buses involved in the accidents had seatbelts, districts reported a higher number. While we know that most standard-size school buses lack seatbelts, there is no exact tally.

Lawmakers lack vital information to make our children safer. While there should be meaningful reform in school bus safety next session, parents and students deserve immediate action.  Therefore, we join State Senators Eddie Lucio and Sylvia Garcia in calling on Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick to charge the Senate Education Committee to evaluate school bus safety and data collection.

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