Five children were killed and six other school children were hospitalized as a result of a tragic spate of school bus stop crashes and school bus loading and unloading crashes this week. The five fatalities occurred in a span of three days. All told, five school bus-related crashes occurred during the early morning hours this week in Pennsylvania, Florida, Indiana, and Mississippi. Locally, on Oct. 9, four Kennedy High School students were hit at a bus stop while waiting for a school bus on Georgia Avenue leaving one student critically injured. As a result of the time change that occurs this Sunday, when Daylight Saving Time ends, many area children will be going to school in the dark, warns AAA Mid-Atlantic.
Others will be waiting at a bus stops or boarding school buses when there is reduced visibility outside and on the road. The recent crash in which three siblings were struck and killed by a pick-up truck and another child was left in critical condition as they were about to board their school bus in Fulton County, Ind., serves as a another somber reminder about the importance of school bus safety. Yesterday, “five children were injured when a car drove into them while they were waiting at a bus stop in Tampa, Florida.”
A total of six students were killed in school bus loading and unloading crashes during the 2017-2018 school year, “double the number of danger zone deaths that occurred in both the 2015-2016and 2014-2015 school years,” according to a report by the Kansas State Department of Education’s (KSDE’s) School Bus Safety Unit. Half of the 2017-2018 fatalities were attributed to a vehicle passing a school bus. Motorists need to be particularly diligent about slowing down, avoiding distractions and staying alert during the morning and afternoon hours when school buses are more likely to be on the road, reminds AAA. The school bus is the safest vehicle on the road, keeping your child safer while traveling to and from school than traveling by car, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
“The greatest risk to your child is not riding a bus, but approaching or leaving one,” said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic manager of public and government affairs. “It’s important that parents, students, teachers, motorists, school bus operators, school administrators, and other safety advocates continue to build awareness of the importance of school bus safety.”
Every day, about 500,000 school buses transport more than 23 million students to and from school. However, each year, nationally, about 24 school-aged children are killed in school transportation-related traffic crashes. Nearly 51 thousand drivers received school bus stop-arm camera tickets in Montgomery County during the past two school years, according to the Montgomery County Police Department. They were slapped with hefty photo-enforced fines for illegally passing yellow school buses with extended stop signal arms, and flashing amber and red lights on the front and rear on county roads. Of those ticketed, 1,991 drivers were repeat violators. In 2017, Maryland legislators upped stop-arm camera fines from $125 to $250.
“A total of 3,812 violations of school bus stop arms were recorded on a single day last spring, compared to 3,384 observed violations in 2017,” according to the Maryland State Department of Education. The department’s survey showed that “Large systems with more buses and bus routes noted the most violators. Montgomery County tallied the most – 1038, followed closely by 677 witnessed by Baltimore County school bus drivers.”
“In addition to following the rules of the road, motorists are also reminded to put away phones and other distractions to keep focused on the road as buses can stop and start frequently, picking up and dropping off students,” Townsend added. “Changing weather conditions and shortened daylight hours can make for particularly dangerous situations.”
AAA offers these tips for students taking the bus and for motorists sharing the road:
While Waiting at the Bus Stop
- Have children wait in a location where the bus driver can easily see them while driving down the street.
- Do not let children play in or near the street. Playing with balls or other toys that could roll into the street is also dangerous.
- Stand at least five giant steps (10 feet) away from the edge of the road.
- Children should be reminded to obey the AAA School Safety Patrol, crossing guard, officer or supervising adult, if present.
Getting On and Off the Bus
- Children should wait until the bus comes to a complete stop, the door opens, and the driver says its okay before approaching the bus door to get onto or off the bus. Your child should use the handrails to avoid falling.
- Warn children that if they drop something getting on and off the bus, they should never attempt to pick it up. Instead, they should tell the driver and follow the driver’s instructions.
- Remind children to stop at the edge of the bus and look left and right before crossing.
- Your child should never walk behind a school bus. If your child must cross the street in front of the bus, tell him/her to walk on a sidewalk or along the side of the street to a place at least five giant steps (10 feet) in front of the bus before crossing. Your child should also make eye contact with the bus driver before crossing to make sure the driver can see him/her.
- If you meet your child at the bus stop after school, wait on the side where the child will be dropped off, not across the street. Children can be so excited to see you after school that they dash across the street and forget the safety rules.
- Slow down. Watch for children walking to and from the bus stop, as well as standing at the bus stop. Watch for children walking in the street, especially if the neighborhood has no sidewalks.
- Be mindful when backing out of a driveway or leaving a garage. Watch for children walking or bicycling to school.
- Yellow flashing lights on a school bus mean that a bus is preparing to stop. Do not try to pass the bus! Begin slowing and prepare to stop your vehicle.
- Red flashing lights indicate that a bus has stopped to load or unload children. Stop your car and wait for the bus lights to stop flashing before moving your vehicle. Passing a loading or unloading school bus is reckless driving.
For motorists, being caught behind a school bus can be frustrating and may require additional patience at times. It is important to know that all 50 states have laws surrounding school bus safety and ignoring those laws can result in hefty fines. AAA’s Digest of Motor Laws provides information on each state’s law related to buses.
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