The death of a 13-year-old girl last week in southern Oregon’s Jackson County should prompt a broader discussion about how we keep children safe as they wait for school buses, especially in rural areas.
As detailed by The Oregonian, the girl was waiting for the school bus at the end of her family’s driveway “on a rural Jackson County road… when she was struck by a passing vehicle, something attached to it or the vehicle’s load.” A search is on for the driver, whom police say may not have even been aware of having struck the child. The fact that so many questions remain unanswered about how the girl was hit, and even at a more basic level what hit her, indicates that law enforcement and school officials still have much work to do. But those essential tasks should not cause police, school officials and the wider community to miss addressing another critical question raised by this child’s death: was standing at the end of her driveway a safe and well-thought-out way for her to be waiting for a ride to school?
In an era of near-constant educational cutbacks we should start by asking whether it was really necessary to have a lone girl standing where her family’s driveway met the road? Was this the only way for the bus to pick her up, or was it just the most efficient way to plan the bus driver’s route? When those bus routes were planned how much thought was given to student safety? As winter approaches and the days continue to get shorter this is a particularly pressing question. According to The Oregonian last week’s fatal accident took place before 7:30 am (the time at which the child’s body was discovered by a passer-by). Over the next four months it will not be unusual for children to be waiting for their school buses in the dark or in half-light and for them to be walking home from their bus stops in the afternoon dusk. Such considerations need to be at the forefront of route planning, and cannot merely be an afterthought.
School authorities need to demonstrate that they are thinking about issues such as the presence of sidewalks, the nature of the lighting, location of bus shelters and, at the most basic level of all, whether children will need to cross the street and, if so, how that will work. It might seem that these questions are so basic that we can naturally assume they are being asked. Last week’s tragedy in Southern Oregon calls that assumption into question.
As a Portland child injury lawyer I spend time every day thinking about these and other child-safety issues. It is important that all of us hold school officials accountable for the decisions they make in planning transportation schedules and routes. Our children’s safety begins as they wait for the bus each morning, and it is essential that school officials view their own responsibilities as beginning at that point – not only when the children enter the school building itself.
ORS 811.140: Reckless Driving
ORS 30.030: Action for Wrongful Death