The hidden cost of school bus crashes

Preventing just one brain or spinal injury caused by a school bus crash would save the community up to $15 million, a senior surgeon believes.

Professor Danny Cass, the Westmead Children’s Hospital trauma head, views the absence of seatbelts on rural and regional school buses as a “disaster waiting to happen”.

“It’s just a matter of time before we see a crash (causing) severe head and spinal injuries, which are incredibly costly to the community and devastating to the child and the family,” professor Cass said.

He estimated the lifelong treatment of a person stricken with a severe spinal injury – a likely injury in vehicle accidents were passengers are unrestrained – was between $13 million and $15 million. By comparison, the federal government has spent just $3 million over the past four years encouraging private bus companies to voluntarily install the lifesaving devices.

In the event of a catastrophic bus crush, responsibility would likely fall on the respected surgeon and his team to treat the young victims. Injuries from a high speed crash would be horrific.

 “We’ve been lucky, I’ve only been involved in three bus crashes and the worst injury was damage to a child’s liver,” professor Cass said.

“But those cases were very much near misses and it’s always disturbed me that school children are still being neglected…a lot of the school bus feel are just cattle wagons.

 “As a society we’ve been totally neglectful and in my opinion as a surgeon, the cost of doing something about it is immaterial. We have a duty of care to protect our children and costs should not be a factor in making sure they get to and from school safely.”

In the past decade, 624 people in NSW aged between five and 20 have been injured in a bus crash, according to Transport for NSW. The severity of those injuries was not recorded.

Professor Cass said students travelling on rural and regional routes are at particular risk because those areas are have less medical resources to quickly and adequately handle a mass casualty event.

He said seatbelts should have been mandatory on all new buses following two disastrous bus crashes on the NSW north coast in 1989.

 “We have neglected our children for over 20 years by not requiring seatbelts to be installed at the point of manufacture,” he said.

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