School Bus Safety

National School Bus Safety Week will be observed throughout the week of October 16-22. Special activities are planned at schools across the Triangle to help emphasize safety rules for students, parents and drivers. And local officials are urging everyone to do their part.

“It is extremely important for drivers, parents and school officials to protect the children who ride public school buses every day,” says Derek Graham, transportation services section chief in the N.C. Department of Public Instruction. “Everyone has a role to play in keeping children safe on school buses.”

Drivers need to obey the laws.

One of the biggest problems nationwide and in North Carolina is motorists who pass a stopped school bus, Graham says. Under state law, it’s illegal to pass a marked school bus that has stopped to pick up or drop off passengers as long as its lights are flashing or its side stop arm is extended.

“Drivers instinctively hit the brakes when they see a ball roll across the street, because they know that children are playing nearby,” says Graham. “Drivers should have the same instinct when they see the flashing red light of a stopped school bus.”

Data collected by Graham’s office shows that motorists illegally pass a stopped school bus over 2,000 times per day statewide. Of those, 402 were reported in the Wake, Durham, Orange, Chapel Hill-Carrboro, Johnston and Chatham school districts, according to state reports. Although the state averages less than one incident a year of a motorist hitting and killing a child, serious injuries and near misses are not uncommon.

Drivers on the same side of the road behind the bus always have to stop. Drivers on the other side of the road approaching the bus have to stop unless the road has a median, a barrier between the opposite travel lanes, or a center turn lane plus at least four travel lanes.

A violation is a Class 1 misdemeanor carrying a penalty of up to 12 months in jail and a fine up to $2,500. The penalty in the state increased from a Class 2 misdemeanor on Sept. 1, Graham says.

Convicted drivers also get six violation points on their drivers licenses — one point more than for reckless driving, tailgating or driving on the wrong side of the road. Typically their car insurance almost doubles. Many ticketed drivers plead guilty to lesser traffic violations and face no fine or imprisonment.

Kids need to know the rules, too.

Parents also need to make sure that their children understand the rules of the road, Graham says. “Parents need to take their children, especially those in elementary school, to the bus stop each morning and stay with them,” he says. “It is extremely important for these students to have some supervision while they wait for the school bus.”

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the most dangerous areas are 10 feet around the school bus on all sides. Children should stay clear of those areas.

“Once children get on the school bus, they are more safe than in a private car,” says Graham. “The danger zone is when they are getting on and off the school bus.”

It’s also important for parents to talk with their children about the proper behavior while riding on a school bus, Graham says. “School bus drivers have a tremendous responsibility,” he says. “They are responsible for driving the school bus while being the only adult in charge of as many as 78 students.” Primary among his suggestions are that children stay alert while getting on and off the school bus, stay seated on the bus and obey the bus driver.

— CP

Tips for Kids

• Get to the bus stop at least five minutes before the bus is scheduled to arrive so you won’t be rushed.

• Stop, look and listen when crossing the street. Cross only at clearly marked crosswalks or at the corners of an intersection.

• While waiting for the school bus, stay a safe distance from the street, well on the sidewalk and certainly off the curb.

• Wait until the bus stops, the door opens, and the driver says it’s OK before stepping onto or off of the bus.

• Use the handrails to avoid falls. When exiting the bus, be careful that clothing with drawstrings and book bags with straps don’t get caught in the handrails or doors.

• If you drop something near the bus, tell the bus driver. Never try to pick it up because the driver may not be able to see you.