Bus crash in Easton Whom to blame?: Accident was combination of unforeseen circumstances and human error.

November 04, 1997

TRAGEDIES ARE easier to cope with when they involve an undisputed villain. It helps to have a deserving target for outrage and grief. But sometimes bad things happen and there is no villain, only a convergence of unforeseen circumstances and, perhaps, some human error.

So far, at least, that terrible school bus crash in Easton last Friday appears to be just that -- a tragedy without someone obvious to blame.

The bus was hit by a tractor-trailer at an intersection with a traffic light in dense morning fog; the driver died, and 27 children were hurt. Which vehicle had the green light remains unclear. Even if the trucker does turn out to be at fault, the case seems to lack hTC the blatant recklessness that would make him easy to hate.

So those upset by the accident have channeled their anger toward Talbot County school officials, saying they should have delayed classes because of the fog. Such a judgment is easy to make after the fact, but hardly fair. Fog rolls in fast and burns off just as quickly this time of year. It can be dense in one place and non-existent a few feet away. The National Weather Service did not forecast fog Thursday night or Friday morning, so there was no reason for school officials to be especially wary.

This incident may have convinced some parents that schools should be more conservative during inclement weather. But Maryland systems already err on the side of caution in this area -- and are frequently ridiculed for it. We doubt whether, once this story fades, most parents will approve if classes start late every time someone spots a patch of fog.

Fearful parents should remember that serious accidents involving school bus passengers and drivers are extremely rare. Only three people in the entire nation died while riding in buses last year. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says there is no safer way to travel on the ground. That is true whether or not school buses have seat belts (most do not), because the value of belts is negligible on full-sized buses, which rely on well-padded seats with high backs to contain and cushion students during a crash.

What happened in Easton probably made more than a few parents think about driving their kids to school from now on. But the big yellow bus is still the safest bet.

Pub Date: 11/04/97

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