August means children are heading back to school. Though many children will be learning online this year, a number of school districts will be holding in-person classes. With school buses – and their precious passengers – returning to the road, now is a good time for drivers and parents to review the basics of back to school safety.
Back to School Safety by the Numbers
About 55 percent of K-12 students take the bus to school. Though this number may be higher or lower in certain cities or neighborhoods, it’s clear that millions of American children take buses to and from school each day.
Though busing is popular, many children still walk to school. The number of children who walk or bike to school ranges from ten percent to 25 percent, depending on how close the family lives to the school and the safety of the route.
These numbers prove that during the school year, it’s important for drivers to be aware of both school buses and child pedestrians.
Why School Bus Safety Matters
Bus rides with friends and walks to school on crisp fall days usually spark fond memories. Yet, children face several dangers when they travel to and from school.
In general, school buses are very safe. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that the school bus is “the safest vehicle on the road.” However, the NHTSA also says, “The greatest risk to a child isn’t riding a bus, but approaching or leaving one.”
In Alabama, during the seven-month period from August 2018 to March 2019, 12 children were killed and another 47 were injured while getting on and off school buses. The Alabama Department of Education reports that, sadly, 30 children die each year in bus-related accidents.
One of the reasons why bus travel is so dangerous is because people don’t follow the law. Even though Alabama law clearly states that drivers must not pass a stopped school bus, in one study, Alabama bus drivers reported that they were passed illegally 1,390 times in just one day. Yet, only 1,064 citations for passing buses illegally were issued in all of 2018.
Walking also presents dangers. Twenty percent of all children harmed in traffic accidents are pedestrians. Because children do not fully understand danger, they may not understand how dangerous cars can be. Also, because children are impulsive, they may dart out into the street before making sure that the road is clear.
Back to School Safety Tips for Drivers
While the number of children hurt in bus or pedestrian accidents is far too high, drivers can do their part to keep children safe. Here are a few things drivers can do to keep the road safe for school buses and child pedestrians:
- Pass Buses Safely
As mentioned, illegal passing is one of the biggest dangers buses face. If a bus is stopped for loading or unloading, DO NOT PASS IT. Never pass a stopped school bus. If the bus is in motion, pass it safely as you would any other vehicle.
- Be Alert Near Buses
The National Safety Council says that the 10-foot area around a school bus is the most dangerous place for children. When you stop for the bus, leave enough space for children to enter and exit. Watch to make sure that no children are walking into traffic.
- Be Alert in Child-Friendly Areas
Children who exit buses need to walk home. If you are driving in a residential area or another place where children are likely to be – especially during the times of day when children are going to or returning from school – be hyper-aware of your surroundings. Actively look for children. As always, avoid texting and other forms of distracted driving.
- Don’t Block the Crosswalk
Children are immature and impulsive. If you block the crosswalk, a child might not understand how to adjust. In fact, blocking the crosswalk might cause a child to dart into traffic. Always stop a safe distance away from the crosswalk.
- Never Pass A Vehicle Stopped at a Crosswalk
Similar to the above, drivers should resist the urge to pass a stopped vehicle at a crosswalk. The vehicle might have stopped for pedestrians. Passing might put them in danger.
- Follow the Rules of the Road
As always, stop at all red lights and stop signs, obey the speed limit, and drive safely. Always avoid driving while intoxicated, overtired, or distracted.
Back to School Safety Tips for Parents
Parents and guardians can take small steps to make their children safer as they travel to and from school. Here are some helpful tips:
- Supervise Your Children
You might remember a time when all but the very youngest children walked to school with little or no supervision. Those days are gone. Experts recommend that all children under age 10 be supervised as they walk to school.
- Talk to Your Children About Pedestrian Safety
Teach your children how to be safe pedestrians. Teach them to stay on the sidewalk when possible, look both ways before crossing, to only cross at crosswalks and other such rules. Don’t just explain what the rules are, explain (in a child-friendly way, of course) why it’s important to follow these rules. It may be uncomfortable to talk to children about car accidents, but it may help them take the rules seriously.
- Keep Your Children Safe at the Bus Stop
When waiting at the bus stop, teach your children to use the S.A.F.E. method from the NHTSA:
o Stay five steps away from the curb.
o Always wait for the bus driver to tell you when to board.
o Face forward in your bus seat.
o Exit the bus when it stops, look left-right-left, and take five steps away from the bus toward the curb.
Questions about Back to School Safety?
Hopefully, this post has answered many of your questions about back to school safety for bus riders and pedestrians. If you have more questions, or if someone you know has been injured in a bus accident or car accident, contact Collins Law, LLC. Our team prides itself on fighting for our clients’ legal rights.