With school about to be in session again, NCHD wants to remind everyone that the safety of children on our streets and roads depends on all of us.
The majority of students ride buses to get to school. School buses are the most regulated vehicles on the road and are designed to be even safer than passenger vehicles for transporting children, including having features such as the flashing lights and the stop-arm that extends while students are getting on and off.
Accidents that happen related to school bus transportation typically occur outside the bus. It is imperative that both students and the drivers who share the road take safety precautions.
Here are some safety tips you can share with the students in your life:
· Wait for the bus in a safe area, at least 5 of your child’s big steps away from the road edge or curb. Before school starts, visit the bus stop and discuss with your child where is the safest place to wait.
· Younger children should be supervised while waiting and boarding.
· Always wait for the bus to come to a full stop and the door to open before approaching the bus.
· Never walk behind the bus – if the child has to cross the street, they should walk 10 feet in front of the bus and make eye contact with the driver before stepping out into the road AND stop to look for oncoming vehicles before crossing. Teach the left-right-left pattern to check the roadway.
· Very important! If your student drops something like their phone or notebook, DON’T stoop to pick it up! They need to tell the driver right away– the driver may get the item, or signal that they can see and then the student can pick it up.
If you are a driver who shares the road with school buses, please be aware of and follow the laws and recommendations that are designed to keep kids safe.
· It is illegal in every state to pass a school bus that is stopped to load or unload children.
· It is also Colorado law to stop at least 20 feet from the bus when the red lights are flashing and the stop-arm is extended, and that applies to both directions of traffic and at intersections.
· The only time oncoming traffic does NOT have to stop for a bus with red flashing lights and the stop-arm extended is if there is a median or physical barrier between your lane and the lane the bus is in.
· Pay attention to the kids – even though kids should be taught about bus safety, they are also unpredictable and tend to ignore hazards or may forget to stop and look.
· Always wait until the red lights are off before proceeding and again, proceed with an eye for children who may still be in the roadway.
· Bus drivers turn on the yellow flashing lights 200 feet before a stop, and when that happens the speed limit is automatically reduced to 20 MPH and drivers need to prepare to stop – it’s not the time to rush past the bus!
According to the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services 2023 survey of Illegal Passing of School Buses, the 1,346 drivers who participated from Colorado observed 552 illegal passes – this is a one-day survey. The total survey included 33 states and over 94 thousand drivers, so adjusting for all the buses on all the days of the school year points to upwards of 40 million illegal passes across the nation: that is a lot of students to put in danger!
By the way, illegal passes do incur fines and points on a driver’s license.
Of course buses aren’t the only way children travel to school.
It is crucial for people who drive students to school to be aware of the traffic patterns for the drop-off/pick-up locations, obey speed limits, and watch out for the kids who ride bikes or walk to school. Slow down, share the road.
Avoid being on the phone or being distracted in any way. It is a good idea to make eye contact with kids who are crossing the street, so you know that they are aware of you as a driver. Students should also be taught to make eye contact with drivers as they are preparing to walk or bike across streets, even in crosswalks and even when they should have the right of way.
Kids who walk to school should stay on the sidewalk; if there is no sidewalk, walk facing traffic but as far off the roadway as possible. Teach children to cross at corners or crosswalks, and that before crossing any roadway, they need to stop and look to the left, right and then left again. It won’t hurt to keep checking both directions again as they are crossing! If a vehicle is approaching, they should make eye contact with the driver.
Children under the age of 10 should be accompanied by an adult when crossing streets since they may not yet be able to accurately judge the distance and speed of oncoming vehicles.
And just like distracted driving, there is distracted walking. Teenagers are currently the most at-risk age group for pedestrian injuries, and this includes outside of school hours. Around the age of 12, when kids are becoming more independent is also when the risks rise. Teach kids to put away the phones and headphones and pause conversations while crossing the street, and if they need to text or talk, stop walking and move away from the street. To hear what teens had to say about texting while crossing the street watch this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j9YY_S2-KlE&t=1s
Bike riders need to take similar precautions as walkers, like avoiding distractions, crossing roads only at intersections, and checking both directions when crossing traffic. Bike riders have to follow the same rules of the road as drivers, ride in the same direction as traffic, and obey signals. As with walking, it is good practice to make eye contact with drivers when crossing intersections and turning. Riders should make sure to wear a helmet with a chin strap and to have bright and reflective gear to be seen in low light.
Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of injury and death for U.S. teens and teen drivers have a fatal crash rate almost three times higher than drivers over the age of 20. In part this has to do with inexperience, but risky driving behaviors like not using seat belts, distraction due to technology, speeding, and use of alcohol and drugs all increase these statistics. To learn more about the state’s graduated drivers licensing program, visit www.codot.gov/safety/colorado-teen-drivers
The start of a new school year presents many exciting possibilities for learning and growth. Don’t let an accident on the way to or from school interfere with our children’s opportunities.