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How safe is my church bus?

It's tragic to see on the news another deadly accident involving a church bus. But there is no denying that there have been some horrific accidents involving church members riding a bus to and from day outings and longer trips.

If you are a person of faith who belongs to a church with its own bus for members, it's a good idea to make sure that the bus and its operator are safe to drive. This can be difficult to ascertain sometimes because church buses fall into a kind of regulatory gray area.

According to the state of Kentucky, church buses are not authorized charter buses if there is no compensation and the church members are the only riders. Church buses require USDOT numbers only if they carry 16 or more members not for compensation or weigh more than five tons.

The lack of regulation allows many not-so-safe church buses to fly under the radar and pose deadly hazards not just to the riders but to all who share the highways with them.

Then, too, the definition of a church bus is also quite nebulous. Often, what is referred to as a "bus" is actually a large-capacity van with room for 10 or so passengers. It's likely not new and may lack the proper safety belts for each rider. Buses that are used to transport children to church and Sunday School may be recommissioned school buses that lack any safety belts at all.

There also may be issues of insufficient liability insurance coverage. While all cases are different, it's possible that smaller churches with fewer members may not carry enough liability insurance to cover members' claims after a major accident.

If the van is owned by the pastor personally, the insurance policy might cover transporting equipment or church supplies but not cover transporting members, volunteers or staff. A policy that covers riders will be significantly more expensive than one that doesn't, and a struggling ministry might have cut some corners.

If you or your child was injured while riding a church bus, you may need to file a claim for compensation to recover your financial losses.

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Ewing & Willis
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