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School Bus, Another Vehicle Collide Near Van Horne

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VAN HORNE, Iowa- Authorities have now identified the people involved in a "scary-looking" school bus crash south of Van Horne Monday morning.

The Benton County Sheriff's Office said Betty Nolan, 81, pulled into the path of a southbound Benton Community school bus shortly after 8:30 a.m. The bus driver, Margaret Wolfe,59, swerved in an attempt to avoid the collision. The school bus and vehicle collided and the bus plunged down an embankment into a box culvert in a drainage ditch coming to rest in a near vertical position. A 16-year-old male from Newhall was the only student on board the bus at the time. All were transported with what was described as only minor injuries. The student on that bus was in a wheelchair that was secured to the floor of the bus.

School bus accidents may be one of the scariest scenarios for parents. But statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration may offer some reassurance. The NHTSA said studies show school buses are seven times safer than passenger cars or light trucks in accidents. And only a handful of students die in traffic mishaps every year while riding on a school bus. The NHTSA studies also found of those students involved in deadly accidents on the way to or coming home from school, 58 percent were riding with a teen driver and 23 percent were with adults. Only one percent were on a school bus.

The plunge into the box culvert and ditch smashed the engine compartment on the bus and did other significant damage. But Benton Community Superintendent Gary Zittergruen said the bus protected those inside and that's what counts.

"We're very fortunate it is built in a terrific way, keeps children and our drivers safe as well because that was a very steep embankment," Zittergruen said.

Talk about school bus safety usually involves driver training and making motorists aware of the rules of the road when it comes to school buses. But College Community Transportation Director Scott Grabe can point out safety features on buses that most people would miss.

For one, Grabe said all new buses have metal roof bows spaced out about five or six feet apartment throughout the length of the bus. Those metal ribbons are engineered to support one and a half times the weight of the entire bus. And they're built to help keep school bus roofs from collapsing in a rollover accident.

Grabe said most buses don't have seat belts either and that can prompt an occasional question from parents. But buses are designed to be "compartmentalized" which means the specially padded seats built installed very close together absorb the motion without letting passengers fly around in a wreck.

"The entire seat, front and back, is encased in some sturdy foam and the construction of the seats are such that the energy is absorbed within the seat," Grabe said.

Grabe said some buses with lifts do have beltsóbut it's a restraint system for wheelchairs. That system worked as advertised in the Benton County crash protecting the wheelchair-bound student who was secured to the restraints and uninjured.

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