The Importance of School Bus Safety – Facts and Reminders
By Bill Rohr
Uploaded: October 17, 2023
As communities nationwide prepare to commemorate National School Bus Safety Week from October 16-20, 2023, it’s a fitting time to reflect on the importance of school bus safety. The school bus is one of the safest modes of transportation for our children. However, despite their safety record, school buses aren’t immune to risks—particularly vehicles that illegally pass them.
In every state, it’s a legal requirement for drivers to halt when a school bus extends its stop-arm and activates its flashing red lights. This isn’t just a rule; it’s a measure that ensures the safety of child pedestrians and their caretakers. Yet, the challenge remains: many motorists still disregard this critical law. From 2000 to 2021, 53 fatalities resulted from drivers illegally passing a halted school bus, averaging 2.4 deaths per year. Tragically, almost half of these fatalities involved pedestrians aged 18 or younger.1.
The most dangerous part of a school bus journey isn’t the ride itself, but the moments of getting on and off. This loading and unloading area has earned the label “The Danger Zone.” It contains the spaces where children might be out of the driver’s view: 10 feet in front of the bus, 10 feet on either side, and directly behind the bus. Young children, in their hurry and with their limited experience with traffic, are the most likely victims to be struck in these areas.
While the duty of safety often falls on drivers, it is equally critical to educate our children about the responsibilities they hold in ensuring their own safety. Teaching children about school bus safety should start at a young age. Regular discussions at home and safety drills at school can imprint crucial safety behaviors. Children should be taught to maintain a safe distance from the bus until it completely stops, to not run or play around the bus stop, and to be especially careful in the ‘Danger Zone.’ Schools and communities can also engage in hosting safety workshops or simulations during the National School Bus Safety Week, making the learning process interactive and engaging for the children. After all, when children are well-informed and cautious, they become active participants in their own safety, reducing the risks associated with school bus transportation.
Data from the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services in their 2022 Stop Arm survey highlighted the scale of the issue. On a single day during the 2020-21 school year, 79,859 school bus drivers reported 51,593 vehicles passing their buses illegally. Extrapolated over a 180-day school year, this amounts to a staggering 41.8 million potential violations annually.2.
Ensuring the safety of our children involves our collective effort. Parents and caregivers play an important role in this effort. Simple actions, such as arriving at the bus stop five minutes early and ensuring children stand at least 10 feet away from the road’s edge, can make a difference. It’s also essential to instruct children to always wait for the bus to come to a complete stop and for the driver to signal before boarding. When exiting, children should be cautious of clothing or bags getting caught, always walk in front of the bus, ensure visibility to the bus driver, and practice safe street-crossing habits by looking left-right-left.
For all drivers, the message is simple: always stop for a school bus. When you see yellow flashing lights, it’s a sign that the bus is preparing to halt. Only proceed once the red lights are turned off, the stop arm is retracted, and the bus starts moving. Passing on the right side of a bus is not only illegal but also dangerous, as this is where children enter and exit. Remember, the greatest risk to a child isn’t during the bus ride but in the moments of approaching or departing from one. Slow down near bus stops, avoid distractions, and be alert to children who might unexpectedly step onto the road.
So, as we observe National School Bus Safety Week, please, please remember that ensuring the safety of our children is everyone’s responsibility. By adhering to safety guidelines, being vigilant, and promoting a culture of safety, we can ensure that our children continue to benefit from the safest mode of transportation to and from school.
For more information on illegal school bus passing, visit www.nhtsa.gov/school-bus-safety/reducing-illegal-passing-school-buses
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- trafficsafetymarketing.gov. Fact Sheet and Talking Points (15894a-063023-v).
- National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services, Annual NASDPTS Survey Highlights Danger of Passing School Buses, Sep. 8, 2022. https://www.nasdpts.org/stop-arm-violations/#results.