National School Bus Safety Week (Oct. 16-20) is upon us and it’s a great time to recognize the importance of the big yellow bus!
Did you know the school bus industry that provides safe, effective transportation for over 25 million schoolchildren is the largest form of mass transit in the United States? According to the American School Bus Council, every school bus on the road eliminates approximately 36 cars, reduces carbon emissions and improves the environment in which we live.
Each day nearly 1,300 school buses across Oakland County transport over 73,800 students – about 43 percent of total public school students. These buses traveled over 15.6 million miles, equivalent to almost 33 trips to the moon and back last school year. Overall, Oakland County public school buses reduced the number of cars on Oakland County roads by over 49,000.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, American students are nearly eight times safer riding in a school bus than with their own parents and guardians in cars. However, even with that proven safety record, all of us have a responsibility to support the safe transportation of pupils on school buses.
For your child’s safety, it is vital to ensure they are at their assigned school bus stop at least five minutes before the scheduled pick up time. Parents may unwittingly place their children in jeopardy when rushing to get to the school bus. Believe it or not, it is common behavior for parents to drive up alongside or behind a school bus that is pulling away from the bus stop. Or, worse yet, parents will pull in front of a moving school bus to stop it. These trusting parents seem to think the bus driver will always see them, then tell their child to run to catch up to the bus.
However, school buses are just like traffic signals – when their overhead flashing lights are operating, traffic must obey, slowing with the amber lights and stopping when the red lights are flashing. When children arrive at the bus stop after the driver has cancelled the red lights, traffic is not required to stop.
Parents and children must always be aware of the school bus driver’s responsibility at bus stops as well as the danger zones around the bus. Children enter danger zones when they approach within 12 feet of a school bus, from any direction. Like cars and trucks, school buses have blind spots where it is difficult for the driver to see children or vehicles approaching. Students who are standing safely at the designated area waiting for the school bus to open the door will be able to board the school bus without incident.
Just like at intersections, everyone must stop and stay stopped when the overhead red lights are flashing on the school bus. Drivers have seen parents who are late getting to work, dropping their children at the stop and then wave to the bus driver as they drive past the bus with the red lights and stop sign still on. Waving at the bus driver does not waive the requirement to stop while the red lights are flashing!
Our job as transportation providers is to get our students to schools, on time, safely and ready to learn. Parents, students and community members are partners in that effort and should heed these safety tips from the Michigan State Police:
- Prepare to stop when a slowing bus has its overhead yellow lights flashing
- Stop at least 20 feet away from buses when their red lights are flashing, unless driving in the opposite direction on a divided highway
- Slow down in or near school and residential areas
- Look for clues-such as safety patrols, crossing guards, bicycles and playgrounds that indicate children might be in the area
- Watch for children between parked cars and other objects
Remember, school buses are like traffic signals:
- When overhead lights are flashing yellow: Prepare to stop
- When overhead lights are flashing red: Stop
- When hazard warning lights (the lights near the head and tail lights) are flashing: Proceed with caution
- Always stay in sight of the bus driver
- Don’t hurry off the bus; check traffic first
- Don’t go back to the bus after exiting
For more school bus safety information visit the Parents, Kids & Community section of Oakland Schools Transportation webpage.
Lori Richardson is the program director of Transportation Services for Oakland Schools.