Back to School Safety

Every state has made it illegal to pass a school bus while its warning lights are activated, indicating the loading or discharge of passengers.

FORT LEE, Va. – Big, yellow buses and backpack-lugging kids will soon return to neighborhood streets and rural roads as the summer vacation period officially comes to an end and Virginia public schools resume classes Sept. 3.

There are many safety factors that must be considered during the school year. The last thing any of us hopefully wants is an accident in which youngsters get injured or worse. Parents most assuredly want to protect their kids from harm, and the young ones themselves must be taught to recognize potential danger and ways to avoid it.

With all those things in mind, the Garrison Safety Office offers the following compilation of safety tips and risk management recommendations. Traveller readers are encouraged to give extra attention to bus safety rules in light of recent Department of Motor Vehicle statistics (2012-2017 period) that showed a seven percent increase in traffic citations for illegally passing the vehicles during stops to pick up or drop off student passengers.

Are buses safe?

According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration studies, it is 70 times more likely that students will get to school safely when taking a bus rather than traveling by car.  That’s because school buses are the most regulated vehicles on the road. They’re equipped with secure seating, rollover protection features, flashing red lights, cross-view mirrors and stop-sign arms. Every state has made it illegal to pass a school bus while its warning lights are activated, indicating the loading or discharge of passengers.

Large school buses are heavier and distribute crash forces differently than cars and light trucks do. In a collision, bus passengers experience much less “crash force” because of a concept called “compartmentalization.” Children are protected by strong, closely spaced seats that have energy-absorbing components.

Small school buses with a gross weight of 10,000 pounds or less must be equipped with lap or lap/shoulder belts at all designated seating positions. Since the sizes and weights of small buses are closer to those of passenger cars and trucks, seat belts in those vehicles are necessary to provide occupant protection.

Bus Stop Behavior

The greatest risk to youngsters is not riding a school bus, it is approaching or leaving one. Part of parent preparations for the upcoming school year should include a talk about bus stop behavior. Cover key points like looking both ways before crossing the road and using crosswalks and sidewalks if available. Discourage horseplay at the bus stops.

During the first few weeks of the school year, children should arrive at the bus stop at least 15 minutes before the scheduled pick-up time. This will accommodate possible schedule changes as bus routes are adjusted to achieve efficiency. When pick-up times become consistent, students should still be at the stop at least five minutes before the bus arrives.

While waiting for the school bus, children should be at least three giant steps (six feet) away from the curb. When the vehicle arrives, kids should wait until it comes to a complete stop, the door opens, and the driver says it’s OK before approaching the door. Upon boarding, use handrails to avoid falling.

During boarding or drop-off, children should never walk behind the school bus. If crossing the street is necessary, the youngster should walk at least five giant steps (10 feet) in front of the vehicle and make eye contact with the driver before crossing. If a child drops something near the school bus, he or she should not try to pick up the item until telling the driver so the bus doesn’t move and possibly injure the individual.

Every Virginia driver also shares part of the responsibility for keeping school kids safe. Tips to keep in mind include the following:

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

Above all, obey the stopped school bus laws. Yellow flashing lights indicate the vehicle is preparing to stop and load or unload children. Motorists should slow down and prepare to stop as well. Red flashing lights and the extended stop arm indicates the bus has children getting on or off. Motorists must wait until the red lights stop flashing, the extended stop-arm is withdrawn, and the bus begins moving before they can start driving again.

Reduce Student Load

Many strains and stress injuries are caused by overloaded or ill-fitting backpacks. The factors for buying one of these must-have book carriers should not be limited to which one has the coolest cartoon characters. Choose a backpack with wide, padded shoulder straps and a padded back. Favor pockets that will hold contents securely over carabiner clip-ons that leave items dangling and swaying when attached.

Pack light and balance the load through the use of available compartments. Pack heavier items closest to the center of the back. The backpack should never weigh more than 10-to20 percent of the student's body weight.

When carrying the backpack, always use both shoulder straps. Slinging it over one shoulder can strain muscles and could increase curvature of the spine.

Parents who would like to learn more about school safety should check out helpful sites like www.nsc.org/home-safety/seasonal-safety/back-to-school and www.nhtsa.gov/back-school-safety.