# How many children in the US are killed per year commuting to school?

As the title states, I’d like to know how many children are killed per year in the United States commuting between school and home.

I haven’t done any in-depth research, but a quick google led me to numbers of fatalities on school buses. I’m sure there are many more fatalities owing to crashes in private cars, bike accidents, pedestrians hit by vehicles, people slipping on ice and fracturing skulls, etc.

I’m not sure how to go about even estimating the total (as opposed to determining an exact number in a given past year) but I hope some data wizards may see this and have hints on how to get these numbers. Please keep this GQ. If you don’t have a clue please don’t share your wild guesses.

Context: I know several people who refuse to vaccinate their children owing to the possibility of vaccination injury. I’d like to compare the risk of fatality for vaccination vs going to school.

As an afterthought, it would be interesting to know (but perhaps extremely difficult to determine) the same thing for commuting to soccer practice, band rehearsal, church, etc.

This will take some time to work out but it is doable at least as a close estimate based on data readily available on the web.

First you have to define the problem of what constitutes a school transit related death? That is our first big problem because the answer isn’t obvious and different definitions are debatable. School buses are an obvious yes but extracurricular activities make it more complicated. I would just keep it simple and say that any transit related death for kids 5 - 18 for the 180 days of the year that they are in school counts in that total. To keep it more simple, you could just take the yearly rate for each specific cause per year for kids in that age group and divide it by 2. Add them all up and that will give you a reasonable but slightly inflated answer.

Deaths directly attributable to official school transportation is very rare according to this good article. Only 0.34% of motor vehicle deaths (about 142 a year) are attributable to school buses and similar forms of transportation. I am not sure what percentage of school aged kids take school buses but it is a large majority in my experience. School buses are among the safest form of transportation and most of the fatal accidents that they are involved in are attributable to other vehicles.

The other causes of death may be harder to figure out unless you want to go through a full actuarial exercise but they can be estimated fairly easily.Here is one article with mortality tables that lists various causes of death ranging from dog attacks to lightning. We already have good numbers for school buses which are part of the largest accidental death category by far for the entire population (motor vehicle deaths). Most of the others are barely a rounding error in total population terms. This chart isn’t broken down by age but you may be able to find one that is. If not, you can estimate by assuming that the deaths are spread equally among all ages for simplicity. School aged kids make up roughly 13% of the population so you can multiply every cause by 0.13 to get the numbers for that group.

Add all of the causes you choose to categorize up once you have either found the real answer or estimated based on the techniques given above and you will be very close to the answer you are looking for.

Perhaps part of your problem is children do not commute (to school), so perhaps your search terms need refinement.

Believe it or not I did more than one google search with various terms. Please share your knowledge of sources of relevant data.

This is just a variation on a Fermi Problem combined with whatever, better data you can come up with. The classic example of one of those is ‘How many piano tuners are there in New York City?’ You could conduct an exhaustive sweep of the entire city and count them one by one to come up with an exact answer or you can just use the basic facts at hand to come up with a remarkably accurate answer just based on the facts that you know (overall population, average size of households, percentage that own a piano and how often they need to be tuned on average).

It is a statistically valid way of calculating hard to determine estimates based on the fact that errors in your terms go both ways and tend to cancel each other out. It works remarkably well for problems like this. I already gave you the basic data above. All you need to do is define the question better, simplify the stats based on known numbers such as about 13% of people in the U.S. are school aged and then figure out which causes of death apply to your question. You will get very close to the actual answer if you do it that way.

Sure, 5 and 17 year olds are more prone to certain causes of accidental death than other groups but so are people over 65 and adults working in dangerous jobs so those groups tend to cancel each other out overall (not exactly but close enough). You can’t get an exact answer without a massive grant and a database that maintains detailed information about the exact cause of death combined with age, circumstances and other specifics about where each person was travelling to or from and why. That does not exist so anyone that tries this exercise has to resort to estimates and approximations to get an answer. Even a well-done first order approximation will get you to an answer within a few percentage points of the real number. More refined approximations become progressively harder and much more time-consuming and really don’t add that much extra information.

A most extreme nitpick to be sure, but the classic example of a Fermi problem is, “How many piano tuners are there in Chicago?”

Just a place to start looking for keywords: HOW CHILDREN
GET TO SCHOOL

Well, here are some numbers with which to play:

FastStats - Child Health

So the top end number for kids 1-14 (total death count) is about 9,300 per year.

This report says about 30 kids killed per year [PDF Warning] (1998-2008 - K-12) in school transportation-related deaths. The entire report has much more.

FYI - It took about five minutes to find these stats.

Your stats are reputable but the age ranges are off based on the question at hand. They should start at 5 rather than 1 and go up to 17 or 18. I think you are being a more than a little condescending when it comes to the nuances of the question that was actually asked. It it a very hard problem based on the way the question was framed.

I am not sure if there is any way to give a specific answer to it other than framing it very specifically and then estimating based on other statistics. There is no database that contains all of the information requested in one easy place so you have to extrapolate and estimate based on the information available, Even then, the question depends completely on the definition of a school related transportation fatality.

For example, does it count if a father picks his daughter up from cheerleading practice, they go out for pizza and then both get killed in a collision with an tractor trailer on the way home at 9 pm? Those are the types of nuances you have to deal with the question as posed. We already know that school buses are incredibly safe and driving your own kids to school is much less safe. Biking to school is much more dangerous than taking a school bus at least in terms of the overall serious injury rate. Kids can get into trouble when they walk to school but not for the reasons that leap to mind. The risk of stranger kidnapping is extremely low for everyone. What are we actually trying to show?

There’s also a need to weigh the alternatives. For example, suppose you choose to home school your children in order to avoid the possible danger of the daily trips back and forth to school. Okay, you’ve probably avoided that danger. But in doing so, have you increased other dangers?

What happens, for example, if a child is ten times more likely to be killed by an accident in their own home than they are in school per hour spent in each? (I just made this statistic up for illustrative purposes.) The reduced danger of the twice daily trip back and forth to school may be outweighed by the increased danger of spending an additional thirty-five hours in the home.

Excellent point Little Nemo.

We should remember that the OP is trying to convince anti-vaxxers of the low risk of vaccination. IMO this will raise a paradoxical reaction if somehow he did convince an anti-vaxxer that vaccination was safer than commuting to school.

IMO, the outcome would be that the anti-vaxxer would interpret that fact as proof that traveling to school is too dangerous too. So now in additionto filling their kid’s heads with anti-vax nonsense, they’ll also start homeschooling, ensuring the kids are totally brainwashed full of loony ideas with no counterbalance from other kids, teachers, etc.

So the OP might win the argument and lose the war.
Given that anti-vaxxers are worried about a paradoxical reaction; that a beneficial vaccine might do harm, I’m not sure whether it’s ironic or consistent that the OP winning the argument with one would also trigger a paradoxical reaction.

Thank you for the insights everyone.

I don’t really find arguments with anti-science people very interesting, fun, or worthwhile. I’m just curious about the risk of various everyday activities, and whether they are inherently riskier than vaccination. I don’t know offhand (or even have a guess) how the risks compare.

You go from “death” on one side to “injury” on the other.

“Injury” is incredibly vague, but, by definition, it encompasses a lot more than death, but you aren’t taking non-fatal accidents into account on the other side.

You’d have a point if they were talking about fatalities, but they aren’t. So, in the end, this research is meaningless, as it’s an “apples & oranges” comparison in the first place.

You’d be better off arguing that the alternative, meaning the results from not vaccinating, are both more likely and worse than the average side effects from vaccines. And, I’m pretty sure, that research has been done repeatedly, so it’s less work for you.

Well, that’s okay. The kid will be less likely to infect other kids.

A vaccinated kid going to school is still less likely to infect another kid than a unvaccinated home schooled kid.

Sure. But an unvaccinated kid not going to school is far less likely to infect another kid than an unvaccinated kid who does.

Interesting.

When I was growing up, I never experienced school buses… well except when we students were taken by the school to an activity somewhere else. Elementary school? No buses. Junior high? No buses. High school? No buses.

Fortunately, my elementary and junior high schools were within walking distance. My high school was not, but it was assumed that we’d either have cars by then or be able to get a ride from someone else who did have a car.

Although, during high school, I did spend a year in another state and did ride a school bus then.

But it’s weird to discover that my personal experiences are in no way normal. (On the other hand, I do have the experience of discovering that over and over again.)

Anyway, the only experience I have of knowing someone in school who was killed on the way to or from school was the following: one day when walking home from junior high, I saw a kid who was hit by a car as the kid tried to cross the street.

There were buses in my district as a kid. They even bussed kids to private school! In my current district, no bussing at all except for field trips. OT, but I wonder if bussing makes it more or less likely to be injured on trips to/from school.