A school bus driver in Cumberland County, North Carolina, was recently transporting 18 children when his bus was involved in an accident with a Ford Expedition. The five students who received medical treatment were not seriously injured. Police arriving at the scene found the bus driver to have a blood-alcohol content (BAC) of 0.20, five times the DWI/DUI legal limit for the operator of a commercial vehicle or school bus.
While most people understand the dangers of drunk driving, the number of drunk-driving-related accidents and deaths deserves more attention. Mothers Against Drunk Driving reports that, in 2008, about 11,773 people were killed as a result of drunk-driving-related accidents. To put this number in perspective, drunk-driving accidents account for almost one third of all traffic deaths.
The frequency of injuries and fatalities resulting from school bus accidents is poorly understood. The National Coalition for School Bus Safety recently found that statistics were often under-reported because field trips, busing for private schools and other school bus trips are not included. Over 23 million children travel by school bus each year. A recent study found that 17,000 children are sent to the hospital each year after being in an accident while traveling by school bus.
State legislatures are well aware of the dangers of both drunk driving and school bus accidents. For example, North Carolina law provides for caps on punitive damages, except in lawsuits involving a drunk-driving accident. By allowing punitive damages in these cases, the legislature intended to create an additional deterrent to what has proved to be an extremely dangerous crime.