Washington The driver may be ornery and the seats may squeak, but riding that big yellow bus is by far the safest way to get to school even safer than walking, a study says.
The most dangerous way: riding in a car with a teenager behind the wheel.
Researchers looked at the ways children get to school and found that school buses account for one-fourth of all trips but only 2 percent of children's deaths in school-related traffic accidents. By contrast, teenage drivers account for 14 percent of trips and 55 percent of traffic deaths.
Accidents with adults driving accounted for 20 percent of students' deaths on the way to or from school; children walking accounted for 16 percent, biking 6 percent.
Researchers found that anytime children are in control whether walking, biking or driving they're less safe.
What about when youngsters misbehave on the school bus?
"We're taught just to pull the bus over until they calm down," said Heather Smith, a Berlin, Conn., bus driver with 27 years of experience.
Smith said children are better educated about school bus safety than they were years ago. "When you're picking them up at the bus stops, they're not running around. ... It makes it easier to drive," she said.
Each year about 800 children are killed in motor vehicle crashes during school commutes. Of those, on average, five are riding in a school bus. Fifteen are killed when they're struck by a bus or another vehicle while getting on or off a bus, generally a car that doesn't stop for flashing bus signals.
By contrast, about 450 students are killed in car accidents with a teenage driver.
A lot of effort has gone into making bus travel safe for children, but more attention should be given to making walking and biking safer, said Doug Robertson, a transportation engineer at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and chairman of the independent National Research Council committee that wrote the report for the Department of Transportation.
There's no single solution, he said. Different cities may need better sidewalks, walkways, bike paths, protection at crosswalks or more signs and crossing guards, he said.
Several cities now offer "walking school buses," in which adult volunteers walk with a group of children from a meeting point to school.
Robertson said states also should examine more restrictive drivers' licenses for teens, including the number of passengers a teenager can drive. "I think it makes some sense," he said.