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Yesterday the Virginia-Pilot published a story by Marc Davis reporting that local municipalities paid about $7.5 million to more than 1,700 victims of accidents in 2004, 2005 and 2006 for wrecks caused by city cars, buses and trucks. About a third of the accidents involved school buses. The story makes the point that reliable data are not kept about the frequency of such accidents. But the Virginia-Pilot analyzed the records of these accidents and settlements involving municipal vehicles and found some interesting points and trends.

The school bus accidents happened for a variety of reasons, with some drivers in a hurry because they’re running late, some caused by substitute bus drivers driving unfamiliar routes, and difficulty for drivers in navigating narrow streets with cars parked on either side.

An encouraging sign was a recent decrease in claims for Norfolk, Virginia, where the city analyzed each accident and clamped down with disciplinary actions against negligent drivers, firing or suspending some, and ordering others to retraining.

The story also looked at accidents involving other municipal vehicles, such as police cars, garbage trucks, dump trucks, and bull dozers, which tended to be involved in more property damage incidents than personal injury accidents.

Whenever a serious school bus accident occurs, calls are renewed for school bus seat belts, even though the statistics suggest that school bus transportation is relatively safe. A USA Today story a couple years ago observed:

School buses are the safest way to travel to school. Nonetheless, an average of 20 students are killed every year — five while riding the bus and 15 run over by buses while getting on or off them.

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