The wheels on the bus go ’round and ’round… and then some. Of the
50 million American children who attend school each day, more than
half (26 million) ride a yellow school bus to campus. That translates
to a whole lot of wheels covering an immense swath of territory.
According to the American School Bus Council, some 480,000 school
buses log an estimated 5.76 billion miles each year.
In New York alone, school buses transport more than 2.3 million children to school every day, adding up to about 1.65 billion trips in the average school year.
Despite these massive numbers, a relatively small percentage of school vehicles are involved in traffic mishaps resulting in injuries. Part of that good safety record comes courtesy of simple physics: Large school buses are heavier and distribute crash forces differently — and more safely — than passenger cars and light trucks, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
"School buses represent 25 percent of the miles traveled by students but account for less than 4 percent of the injuries," reads a 2011 report by the Transportation Research Board "The Relative Risks of School Travel: A National Perspective and Guidance for Local Community Risk Assessment.”
An even more important reason a school bus remains one of the safest ways to travel? Training. Not only for bus drivers, who must participate in a gauntlet of training sessions and tests before they can climb behind the wheel, but also for passengers — who must know how to safely approach, ride and exit a bus — and, last but not least, for other drivers on the road. Learn more about training requirements [PDF]
That last piece of the puzzle — other drivers — forms the centerpiece of the theme for this year’s National School Bus Safety Week (Oct. 17-21): “Bully Free Zone!”
Failure of other vehicles to come to a complete stop when a school bus halts to pick up or drop off children poses the greatest safety risk to student passengers, according to the National School Transportation Association, which since the early 1990s has organized National School Bus Safety Week each year during the third week of October.
A school bus employs an eight-light bus warning system to signal other traffic about its movements. When a bus approaches a loading or unloading area, yellow lights at the front and rear of the vehicle will flash to warn other traffic to slow down. Once the bus stops, its red lights flash and a “stop arm” extends from the side of the vehicle.
Yellow, slow. Red, stop. Simple enough, right? Unfortunately, motorists passing stopped school buses remains a persistent problem in New York state and around the country.
In the last four years, 35 students in the state were hit by motorists passing stopped school buses and every day nearly 50,000 motor vehicles illegally pass school buses, according to the website, SafeNY.org. In 2004, a car illegally passing a school bus on the right side killed a 7-year-old girl in Central New York. In 2006, a New York City student was struck and killed as a car passed her school bus when she was crossing the street.
“‘Illegal passing’ has become an urgent concern in the pupil transportation industry,” according to the New York Association for Pupil Transportation (NYAPT).
Not only is stopping for school buses the right and safe thing to do. It’s the law. The penalty for passing a stopped school bus ranges from a minimum fine of $250 for a first violation to a maximum of $1,000 for three violations in three years. Three convictions in three years? A driver’s license will be revoked for a minimum of six months, according to the New York state Department of Motor Vehicles [Section 1174, NYS Vehicle & Traffic Law].
“The reasons for the high rates of illegal passing are unknown but we suspect lack of knowledge of the law, driver distraction, driver error and more,” the NYAPT writes in a memorandum supporting a proposed New York bill that would create a dedicated fund for public/motorist education about illegal passing. “Clearly, there is a need for increased understanding of motorist attitudes and awareness of the law. Accordingly, every step must be taken to inform the public and increase that level of awareness.”
Another law being proposed in New York state would equip school bus stop arms with cameras to assist in the apprehension of illegal passers.
The National School Bus Safety Committee, made up of representatives from National School Transportation Association, National Association of Pupil Transportation, Pupil Transportation Safety Institute and National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services, offers these school bus safety tips:
Crossing students should:
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration offers these safety tips for drivers:
For more information about National School Bus Safety Week — or school bus safety, in general — please visit:
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