The wheels on the bus go ’round and ’round…and then some.
Of the 50 million American children who attend school each day,
more than half (26 million) ride a yellow school bus to campus.
That translates to a whole lot of wheels covering an immense swath
of territory. According to the American School Bus Council, some
480,000 school buses log an estimated 5.76 billion miles each
In New York alone, school buses transport more than 2.3 million children to school every day, adding up to about 1.65 billion trips in the average school year.
Despite these massive numbers, a relatively small percentage of school vehicles are involved in traffic mishaps resulting in injuries. Part of that good safety record comes courtesy of simple physics: Large school buses are heavier and distribute crash forces differently — and more safely — than passenger cars and light trucks, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
“School buses represent 25 percent of the miles traveled by students but account for less than 4 percent of the injuries,” reads a 2011 report by the Transportation Research Board, “The Relative Risks of School Travel: A National Perspective and Guidance for Local Community Risk Assessment.”
An even more important reason a school bus remains one of the safest ways to travel? Training. Not only for bus drivers, who must participate in a gauntlet of training sessions and tests before they can climb behind the wheel, but also for passengers — who must know how to safely approach, ride and exit a bus — and, last but not least, for other drivers on the road.
That last piece of the puzzle — other drivers — forms the centerpiece of the theme for this year’s National School Bus Safety Week (Oct. 20-24): “At my Stop, you Stop!”
Failure of other vehicles to come to a complete stop when a school bus halts to pick up or drop off children poses the greatest safety risk to student passengers, according to the National School Transportation Association, which since the early 1990s has organized National School Bus Safety Week each year during the third week of October.
A school bus employs an eight-light bus warning system to signal other traffic about its movements. When a bus approaches a loading or unloading area, yellow lights at the front and rear of the vehicle will flash to warn other traffic to slow down. Once the bus stops, its red lights flash and a “stop arm” extends from the side of the vehicle.
Yellow, slow. Red, stop. Simple enough, right? Unfortunately, motorists passing stopped school buses remains a persistent problem in New York state and around the country.
In the last four years, 35 students in the state were hit by motorists passing stopped school buses and every day nearly 50,000 motor vehicles illegally pass school buses, according to the website, SafeNY.org. In 2004, a car illegally passing a school bus on the right side killed a 7-year-old girl in Central New York. In 2006, a New York City student was struck and killed as a car passed her school bus when she was crossing the street.
“‘Illegal passing’ has become an urgent concern in the pupil transportation industry,” according to the New York Association for Pupil Transportation (NYAPT).
Not only is stopping for school buses the right and safe thing to do. It’s the law.
The penalty for passing a stopped school bus ranges from a minimum fine of $250 for a first violation to a maximum of $1,000 for three violations in three years. Three convictions in three years? A driver’s license will be revoked for a minimum of six months, according to the New York state Department of Motor Vehicles [Section 1174, NYS Vehicle & Traffic Law].
“The reasons for the high rates of illegal passing are unknown but we suspect lack of knowledge of the law, driver distraction, driver error and more,” the NYAPT writes in a memorandum supporting a proposed New York bill that would create a dedicated fund for public/motorist education about illegal passing. “Clearly, there is a need for increased understanding of motorist attitudes and awareness of the law. Accordingly, every step must be taken to inform the public and increase that level of awareness.”
Another law being proposed in New York state would equip school
bus stop arms with cameras to assist in the apprehension of
The National School Bus Safety Committee, made up of representatives from National School Transportation Association, National Association of Pupil Transportation, Pupil Transportation Safety Institute and National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services, offers these school bus safety tips:
• Arrive at the bus stop five minutes early.
• Stand at least five giant steps (10 feet) away from the edge of the road.
• Wait until the bus stops, the door opens and the driver says it’s OK before stepping onto the bus.
• Be careful that clothing with drawstrings and book bags with straps or dangling objects do not get caught in the handrail or door when exiting the bus.
• Check both ways for cars before stepping off the bus.
• The bus driver and others cannot see you if you are standing closer than 10 feet to the bus. Stay out of this danger zone!
• If something falls under or near the bus, tell the driver. NEVER try to pick it up yourself!
• While waiting for the bus, stay in a safe place away from the street.
• When you get on or off the bus, look for the bus safety lights and make sure they are flashing.
• Be alert to traffic. When you get on or off the bus, look left, right, left before you enter or cross the street.
• When the driver says it is safe to cross the street, remember to CROSS IN FRONT of the bus.
• When riding, stay in your seat and sit quietly so that the driver is not distracted.
Crossing students should:
• Walk in front of the bus; never walk behind the bus.
• Walk on the sidewalk or along the side of the road to a point at least 10 giant steps ahead of the bus.
• Be sure the bus driver can see them and they can see the bus driver.
• Wait for the driver’s signal to cross.
• School buses are the safest form of highway transportation.
• The most dangerous part of the school bus ride is getting on and off the bus.
• Pedestrian fatalities (while loading and unloading school buses) account for approximately three times as many school bus-related fatalities, when compared to school bus occupant fatalities.
• The loading and unloading area is called the “danger zone.” This zone is the area on all sides of the bus where children are in the most danger of not being seen by the driver (10 feet in front of the bus, where the driver might be too high to see a child; 10 feet on either side of the bus, where a child might be in the driver’s blind spot; and the area behind the bus).
• Half of the pedestrian fatalities in school bus-related crashes are children between 5 and 7 years old.
• Young children are most likely to be struck because they:
o Hurry to get on and off the bus.
o Act before they think and have little experience with traffic.
o Assume motorists will see them and will wait for them to cross the street.
o Don’t always stay within the bus driver’s line of sight.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration offers these safety tips for drivers:
• When backing out of a driveway or leaving a garage, watch out for children walking or bicycling to school.
• When driving in neighborhoods with school zones, watch out for young people who may be thinking about getting to school, but may not be thinking of getting there safely.
• Slow down. Watch for children walking in the street, especially if there are no sidewalks in neighborhood.
• Slow down. Watch for children playing and congregating near bus stops.
• Be alert. Children arriving late for the bus may dart into the street without looking for traffic.
• Learn and obey the school bus laws in your state. Learn the "flashing signal light system" that school bus drivers use to alert motorists of pending actions:
o Yellow flashing lights indicate that the bus is preparing to stop to load or unload children. Motorists should slow down and prepare to stop their vehicles.
o Red flashing lights and extended stop arms indicate that the bus has stopped and that children are getting on or off. Motorists must stop their cars and wait until the red lights stop flashing, the extended stop sign is withdrawn and the bus begins moving before they can start driving again.
For more information about National School Bus Safety Week — or school bus safety, in general — please visit:
• The National Association for Pupil Transportation: http://www.napt.org/
• The National School Transportation Association: http://www.yellowbuses.org/
• The Pupil Transportation Safety Institute: https://www.ptsi.org/?dp=index
• The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: http://www.nhtsa.gov/
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