Each year during the third week of October, school districts around the country observe National School Bus Safety Week, which this year is Oct. 19-23. Many people may think school bus safety is an issue primarily under the control of bus drivers, but other motorists play a big role in the safety of school bus occupants, too.
Distracted or excited children entering or leaving school may not always be aware of danger in the streets. That’s why fines for traffic offenses are higher in school zones. Too many antsy drivers, however, blow through school zones with no regard to posted speed limits.
Texas law requires drivers to stop when approaching a stopped school bus with flashing red lights. The law is in place to protect children boarding or departing a school bus, but some drivers seem more concerned with reaching their destination than keeping children safe.
In 2014, the Austin Independent School District installed cameras on 30 of its 500 school buses. In eight months’ time, about 60 drivers per day disregarded a school bus stop sign. AISD bus drivers are in favor of all buses being equipped with cameras that will record people illegally passing buses.
Bus Stop Safety
Outside of school zones, children may be at risk for injury at bus stops. Many bus stops are along busy streets, and at certain times of the year, low-light conditions may make it hard for motorists to see children who inadvertently step into the road. Bus drivers may also have trouble seeing children, especially when kids unexpectedly move behind, under, or in front of the bus at a bus stop.
The AISD offers recommendations to keep kids safe at bus stops. Parents should caution their children to:
- Stay at least 10 feet back from the edge of the road.
- Wait for the bus to stop completely before boarding, and wait for the bus driver’s signal that it’s OK to board.
- After getting off the bus, don’t cross the street until the bus driver signals it’s OK to do so.
- Use the handrail when entering or leaving the bus.
- Never walk behind the bus.
When children are playing or roughhousing near the road or are rushing to catch a bus, they may inadvertently step into the path of a moving car or bus. The design of a bus creates blind spots extending up to 10 feet outward in all directions, so children should be made aware of that risk.
Some Texas school buses have seat belts, and some don’t, and that raises some interesting questions: Should all school buses have seat belts, and would schools even be able to enforce seat belt usage?
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration says large school buses protect children in crashes through compartmentalization, meaning high, soft seat backs form a protective barrier around kids. Still, the NHTSA says if all school buses nationwide were equipped with three-point safety belts and all students used those seat belts, two lives would be saved annually. The cost to retrofit buses with seat belts could be between $7,300 and $10,300 — probably too costly for some districts to consider. Yet, is any amount of money too much, if it could save children’s lives?