School Bus Safety

  • Twenty-three million students nationwide ride a school bus to and from school each day. Wherever you live, a familiar yellow school bus is one of the most common motor vehicles on the road. It is also the safest. School buses manufactured after January 1, 1977 must meet more federal motor vehicle safety standards than any other type of motor vehicle. In fact, school buses are sixty times safer than passenger cars, light trucks, or vans, according to the Fatality Analysis Reporting System at the U.S. Department of Transportation.

    Riding Safely

    Students also need to behave safely during the school bus ride. Basic safety rules include the following:

    • Always sit fully in the seat and face forward.
    • Never distract the driver.
    • Never stand on a moving bus.
    • Obey the driver.
    • Speak in a low voice, no screaming, or shouting.
    • Never stick anything out the window (arms, legs, head, backpacks, etc.)

    Getting On and Off the Bus Safely

    Because getting on and off the bus is the most dangerous part of the school bus ride, the loading and unloading area is called the "Danger Zone." This area-which extends ten feet in front of the bus, ten feet on each side of the bus, and behind the bus-is where children are at greatest risk of not being seen by the bus driver.

    Throughout the year, especially at the start of school, children need to be taught how to get on and off the school bus safely. Parents should help their children learn and follow these common-sense practices:

    • Get to the bus stop at least five minutes before the bus is scheduled to arrive. Running to catch the bus is dangerous and can lead to injuries.
    • When the bus approaches, stand at least five giant steps (10 feet) away from the curb, and line up away from the street.
    • Wait until the bus stops, the door opens, and the driver says that it's okay before stepping onto the bus.
    • If you have to cross the street in front of the bus, walk on the sidewalk or along the road to a point at least five giant steps ahead of the bus before you cross. Be sure that the bus driver can see you and you can see the bus driver when crossing the street. Stop at the edge of the bus and look left-right-left before crossing.
    • Use the handrails to avoid falls. When getting off the bus, be careful that clothing with drawstrings and backpacks with straps don't get caught in the handrails or door.
    • Never walk behind the bus.
    • Walk at least five giant steps away from the side of the bus.
    • If you drop something near the bus, tell the bus driver. Never try to pick it up, because the driver might not be able to see you.

    Safety Rules for Motorists

    Motorists also need to observe traffic safety rules around school buses. First and foremost, they must know and understand the school bus laws in their state. In particular, they must be aware that it is illegal in all 50 states to pass a school bus that has stopped to load or unload students. (Ninety-five percent of the respondents in a recent telephone survey ranked this as the most dangerous of all illegal or unsafe driving practices. In fact, collisions involving motorists who illegally passed a stopped school bus accounted for almost one-fourth of the pedestrian fatalities in school bus-related crashes between 1988 and 1998.)

    Motorists must learn the "flashing signal light system" that school bus drivers use to alert motorists that they are going to stop.

    • Yellow flashing lights indicate the bus is preparing to stop to load or unload children. Motorists should slow down and prepare to stop their vehicles.
    • Red flashing lights and extended stop arm indicate that the bus has stopped and that children are getting on or off. Motorists must stop their cars and wait until the red flashing lights are turned off, the stop arm is withdrawn, and the bus begins moving before they start driving again.

    Motorists should also observe the following traffic safety rules:

    • When backing out of a driveway or leaving a garage, watch out for children walking to the bus stop or walking or bicycling to school.
    • When driving in neighborhoods and especially in school zones, watch out for young people who may be thinking about getting to school, but may not be thinking about getting there safely.
    • Slow Down. Watch for children walking in the street, especially where there are no sidewalks. Watch for children playing and gathering near bus stops.
    • Be Alert. Children arriving late for the bus may dart into the street without looking for traffic.