Discuss school bus safety with your child during back-to-school preparation

Reviewing school bus safety guidelines with your child before they head off on their first day of the new school year is as important packing a nutritious lunch and making sure their immunizations are up-to-date.

According to the American School Bus Council, 25 million children across the U.S. ride some 480,000 school buses to and from school every school day. Statistically, riding the bus is relatively safe for children. Not only are school buses designed to be safer than passenger vehicles, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) provides data from the U.S. Department of Transportation indicating school buses are actually the safest mode of transporting children to and from school. Their studies find students are safer riding the bus than being driven by a parent, riding with friends, or, in the case of older students, driving themselves to and from school. The greatest risk for school bus-related injury or death occurs when children are either approaching or leaving their school bus.

The American School Bus Council estimates school bus use results in 17.3 million cars are kept off roads around schools each day. The council’s website provides a list of environmental benefits that result from school bus use in addition to the safety benefits mentioned above.

Before the first day of school this fall, Michigan State University Extension recommends that you talk to your child about how to behave safely when travelling to and from school. If your child does ride a school bus, the NHTSA provides simple school bus safety guidelines to help make your child’s daily journey to and from school a safe one. They suggest your child:

  • arrive at their bus stop at least five minutes before the bus is due
  • stand at least six feet from the curb and form a line away from the street
  • wait until the bus comes to a complete stop, the door is open, and the driver invites them to enter
  • use handrails when entering and exiting and make sure any drawstrings or straps do not get caught on the handrails or doors
  • if they must cross the street before entering or after exiting the bus, remind them to always cross in front of the bus, making sure they and the bus driver can both see one another
  • your child should always walk at least six feet away from the side of the bus and never walk behind the bus
  • if your child drops something near the bus, instruct them to tell the bus driver before trying to pick it up and speak to the driver again once the item has been retrieved so that their bus driver knows where they are at all times

For younger children, the NHTSA suggests using the phrase ”three giant steps” in place of “six feet” when discussing the above school bus safety guidelines.

Not only should adults thoroughly discuss school bus safety with their children prior to the start of the school year, they should be very cautious themselves when driving in areas where children may be walking to/from a bus stop or getting on/off a bus. Again, simple common-sense guidelines offered by NHTSA remind adult drivers to:

  • watch for children walking or biking to school when backing out of a driveway or garage
  • drive slowly and be alert when children are walking or playing in the area especially if there are no sidewalks
  • remember that yellow flashing lights on a bus indicate the bus is preparing to stop and motorists should slow down and prepare to stop their own vehicle while a bus with red flashing lights and an extended stop arm, requires drivers stop their own vehicle and wait until the lights stop flashing, the arm is withdrawn, and the bus begins moving again before they resume driving
  • make sure they learn and obey the school bus laws in Michigan

Of course, once on the bus, children should behave in a manner that contributes to the safest ride possible for all passengers. It is recommended that they go directly to a seat, then stay seated and facing forward for the entire ride. If your child needs to talk to the driver, instruct them to wait for the bus to stop, raise their hand, and call the driver’s name. Remind them to talk quietly to their friends, not to throw items around the bus or out the windows and never to play with emergency exits. All of these actions can distract the driver and cause an accident. Stress the importance of keeping aisles clear at all times and listening carefully to the driver if an emergency occurs.

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