Each day more than 26 million students in the United States ride the bus to and from school. Yet, there seems to be a fair amount of discussion by parents as to whether or not riding the school bus is the right decision for their child. Let's examine the most common concerns:

Is riding the school bus really safe?

Well, according to the Transportation Research Board, a child is actually 13 times safer in a school bus than in your own family car. And when considering that high-school-aged students would often prefer to drive to school or ride with a friend, it is important to know that children driving to school or riding with other teenage drivers are 44 times more likely to be fatally injured than in a school bus.

Now you might be saying, "How could that be so?" Kids don't even necessarily use seat belts while riding on the school bus! One of the things that makes a school bus safer in a collision is the design of the tall bus seats. According to The American School Bus Council:

"School buses use what is called 'passive restraint,' meaning all a child must do to be protected is simply sit down in a seat. The children are protected like eggs in an egg carton — compartmentalized, and surrounded with padding and structural integrity to secure the entire container. The seat backs are raised and the shell is reinforced for protection against impact."

Also, consider the fact that the bright yellow color and large size of a school bus makes it easily identifiable to other drivers on the road. The height of a school bus also raises the bus passenger compartment above the level of car impact in the event of a collision with a car.

But how do I know that the bus driver is a safe driver?

In order to drive a school bus, a driver must obtain a Commercial Driver's License and must also pass a written and skills-based test to receive a School Bus Endorsement. After that, drivers receive additional specialized training, often provided by the school district, on how to drive the bus, how to load and unload passengers, how to manage passenger behavior, and how to handle emergency medical situations.

Most districts conduct detailed background checks on drivers prior to employment, administer drug and alcohol testing, and have procedures in place for ongoing and random drug and alcohol screenings as well. Check with your local school district's Transportation Department to get a run-down of the school bus driver policies in place for your school system.

Is sending my child on the school bus better for the environment?

Every family that sends their children to school on a school bus represents one fewer car on the road, which means less air pollution. Now, whether or not the school buses used by your district are environmentally-friendly largely depends on the age of the bus fleet. Model year 2007 school buses are 60 times cleaner than those built before 1990. School bus manufacturers also are making large investments in new diesel, natural-gas, electric hybrid, and other engines to further reduce air pollution.

I am worried about bullying, or my child learning "colorful language" from the older kids.

While it is true that the time the kids are on the school bus is often the least adult-supervised time of the school day, many districts have put procedures in place to help monitor student behavior. Many school buses now have cameras installed, both inside and out, to monitor students and help with identification and resolution of problems. And bus drivers are receiving training to help identify and manage student bullying behavior.

Are there benefits to the student who rides the bus to school?

Some parents find it easier to transition their younger student to his or her school day by saying good-bye at the bus stop, because the child immediately needs to walk up the bus steps and find a seat on the bus, hopefully next to a friend that he or she can talk to. On the other hand, transitions from Mom's car into the school without the benefit of quick timing and a friend to walk into the building with can be more challenging for some kids.

Personally, I find that asking my kids to keep to the schedule of being at a bus stop at a certain time to begin their day leads to a commitment to punctuality and responsibility that will serve them well into adulthood!

Teach your children how to be safe, and know how to be safe as a driver, with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Kids, The School Bus, and You.