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How Safe Is Their School Bus?

This fall, more than half of all U.S. schoolchildrenwill clamber aboard that growling, canary-colored icon of American education, the school bus. If your child is one of them, you'll be glad to know that school buses are the safest form of motorized transportation on the American road, bar none.

Mile for mile, your child is seven times safer sitting on a school bus than she is riding in your family car. That's because school buses are bigger, heavier, and sit higher off the ground than most of the things they collide with. (The vast majority of deaths in school-bus crashes occur in the other vehicle.) The buses' unmistakable yellow coloring, flashing lights, and swing-out stop signs make them highly visible to motorists. Their drivers must earn commercial driver's licenses and, in most states, receive special safety training. Even smaller school buses, which are about the size of a passenger van, must meet rigorous federal standards for everything from fuel-tank protection to seating systems and emergency exits.

While there are school-bus accidents  -- in an average year, several hundred children are seriously injured and about 35 are killed  -- these tragic numbers are small when measured against the fact that school buses log four billion miles each year.

But despite this enviable record, school-bus safety could improve. The question, critics argue, isn't, "How safe are school buses compared with other modes of transportation?" but, "Can school buses themselves be safer?" And the answer is yes.

David Ruben is a contributing editor to Parenting.