Riding the big yellow school bus is a safer mode of transportation for children than driving or walking to school, but the real risk for injury is from motorists who do not follow the proper laws and procedures when driving near a bus.
Putting figures to the obvious risks, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports there is an average of 139 fatalities per year involving school transportation-related crashes. Most of these fatalities aren't to the children on the buses, but rather to occupants of other vehicles involved in the crashes (72 percent) or to other non-occupants of the buses, such as those who are walking and biking to school (20 percent).
And the dangers aren't just in the morning going to school. In fact, NHTSA points out that more school-age pedestrians have been killed between the hours of 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. than any other time of day.
As a driver, it is crucial for the community to be extra cautious during the school pick-up and drop-off hours, and to treat school buses as something best seen from a distance, rather than up close.
Here are some rules to make sharing the road with buses safe for everyone:
- Never pass a school bus that is stopped to load or unload children. It is illegal in all 50 states. Also, never pass a school bus on the right -- it is illegal and dangerous.
- If you are traveling in the same direction as a stopped school bus, you must stop as well.
- Yellow flashing lights indicate that the bus is preparing to stop to pickup or drop off children. If you are driving, slow down and prepare to stop. Red flashing lights and an extended stop arm indicate that the bus is stopped, and that children are getting on or off. This, of course, means that you have to stop as well.
- When waiting with your own child, teach them to wait until the stop arm is fully extended and the bus door opens before moving toward the bus.
- The area ten feet around a school bus is at the highest risk for child being hit, so stop your car further than that to allow space for children to enter or exit. Most states have distance requirements, and they may be much further away than you may think.
- When backing out of a driveway or leaving a garage, watch out for children walking or bicycling to school. Better yet, walk around your car or out to the sidewalk to check for any children walking in your path before you get in.
- Be aware that roads that pass close schools may have slower speed limits during arrival and dismissal times than during non-school hours and that those limits are often more strictly enforced.
- Drive slowly and watch for children walking in the street, especially if there are no sidewalks. Also be aware of children playing or waiting around bus stops.
- Be alert and aware on the road. While children are typically taught about looking both ways, they could dart into the street without looking if they are late or distracted.
For more on child safety, see our kids and car safety guide.