School bus speed limits and child-safety fetishization

So, I got in the middle of an interesting discussion on FB the other night where it was mostly me against liberals.  Why?  A Republican NC legislator has proposed increasing the top speed for school buses to 55 from the current 45.  He was attacked as a child-endangering lunatic.   You know what is dangerous?  Having any vehicle travelling at 45 on the interstate while all the other vehicles are going 65 and above.  That’s dangerous.  Now, I’m absolutely sure that this legislator didn’t really research this and think it all the way through (he is an NC Republican already), but that doesn’t mean he’s not right.  Obviously, higher speeds can lead to more serious accidents but speed differentials are also more likely to lead to accidents– importantly, not just for the bus.  I’ve often seen dangerous driving on the highway because a single school bus is so much under the limit.

Anyway, I think this is part of a larger issue of the fetishization of school-kid safety.   I hate stopping behind buses at railroad crossings– yes, the bill from “I’m just a bill”!.  If my kids are safe for me to go through in my minivan, I assume they should be safe in a school bus.  I’m not aware of a rash of accidents because the lights didn’t flash and the crossarms didn’t come down.  Either these intersections are dangerous or they’re not.  There’s nothing inherently more dangerous about a school bus crossing railroad tracks.  Furthermore, your average left turn onto a moderately busy road without a traffic signal is surely substantially more dangerous than many a right on red would be.  Yet, the latter happens essentially all the time, while many a perfectly safe right on red is forbade by law.  God forbid we should change any of these things and endanger the children.

All that said, hey, I’m a data-driven guy and I do love the laboratory of federalism.  Neighboring states have higher speed limits for school buses.  Any evidence for more accidents and injuries from buses travelling at the top speed?  Or not?

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

3 Responses to School bus speed limits and child-safety fetishization

  1. Mike Barr says:

    I agree with you entirely. I think this kind of hypersensitivity to every danger, and the government response that is required to prevent this “danger”, gives the the broader meaning of “liberalism” a black eye. I think this is the type of thing that gives rise to “nanny state” label used by conservative blowhards (after distorting, exaggerating, and twisting the context).

  2. Mike from Canada says:

    When school buses get into accidents they tend to be ugly. There is a lot of space inside for children to bounce about. Like putting a hamster in a big jar and shaking it hard. And there is one thing you can’t argue against, physics. The faster a vehicle goes the more damage happens when something goes wrong. The increase is squared, I believe. I think a person can die at only 35 mph should they come to a sudden stop. Which is why bus crashes tend to be ugly when they happen. Hamsters in a jar.

    That said, in British Columbia schools buses can do the regular speed, as far as I’m aware and we’ve only had one serious school bus accident in the past 40 years. This was attributable to poor maintenance on the breaks on a bus owned by a private company rented for a weekend ski trip some 220 kilometers up island. The bus failed to navigate a bend on the mountain road after the brakes failed on the way down. There were few upkeep regulations, and those were not enforced at all.

    I think a good driver who is paying attention can do 70 mph safely in almost any vehicle if road conditions warrant, and they drive defensively. But it can be hard to weed out the bad drivers. A lot never get tickets or any infraction, there are not enough police, and traffic enforcement is usually just a small part of the job. Vehicles cause more carnage then firearms. Everyone thinks they are good drivers, but few really are.

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