Navigating The School Bus

By Sharon Naylor

May 20, 2013 5 min read

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an average of 24 school-age children are killed in school transportation accidents each year. Eleven of those children are on the school bus, and 13 are pedestrians. Even one child killed or injured in a school bus accident is too many. So it's important to teach your children the safety rules of being in or around school buses.

Since it's back-to-school time, make it a top priority to deliver a school bus safety lesson to children who will be riding the bus for the first time and to older children who have ridden the bus for several years. They, especially, need to be reminded of how important it is to practice bus safety, because older kids can get complacent about school bus risks.

The National School Bus Safety Week committee wants parents to be aware that the most dangerous part of the bus ride is getting on and off the bus. The group says, "Pedestrian fatalities (while loading and unloading school buses) account for approximately three times as many school bus-related fatalities, when compared to school bus occupant fatalities." The loading and unloading area is called the "Danger Zone," and it's "the space on all sides of the bus where children are in the most danger of not being seen by the driver (10 feet in front of the bus where the driver may be too high to see a child, 10 feet on either side of the bus where a child may be in the driver's blind spot, and the area behind the bus)."

The "Danger Zone" is particularly dangerous for young children, who are more likely to be struck because they act impulsively, dash to get on and off the bus, assume other drivers will see them and stop, and don't always stay within the driver's sight. Older kids experience risk when they are distracted by their friends -- who also might be unaware of other motorists or their positioning in the driver's blind spots -- and by their handheld gadgets.

So Google an image of a school bus "Danger Zone" that illustrates in danger-red the areas around the bus that they are to avoid. It's considered a common rule of thumb for children to stay at least 10 feet away from all sides of the bus and to always cross the street in front of the bus while the bus is stopped, red lights flashing, driver watching.

But kids have to be taught or reminded to look carefully for other motorists who are not stopped for the bus and to look behind the bus for any irresponsible driver who might speed to pass the bus. And they should never cross the street behind the bus. If friends are headed that way, your child is not to follow them. Role-play to give your child a script, such as, "Let's cross up here where the driver can see us." With practice, they'll feel more confident in group dynamics.

Teach kids to stay away from the bus's wheels, and if they drop something while getting off the bus, they are to tell the bus driver before trying to retrieve it. The bus driver will wait, keeping the child safe from tragedy.

If your child forgets something on the bus, he or she should wave for the bus driver's attention to ensure the driver stops the bus for safer re-boarding. Your child should never just walk back to the bus, because the driver might not see him or her approaching, especially if the child is in the "Danger Zone."

And of course, children are to walk straight home, on the sidewalk, after getting off the bus. They are to avoid strangers at all times and should not hang out with friends in the street. Going straight home is a rule that must not be broken, or there will be consequences.

Here are some safety tips for when on the bus, which older kids also need to be reminded of because their peers may be unsafe travelers:

--Walk directly to a seat and remain seated and facing forward for the entire ride.

--If the bus has seat belts, put one on.

--Never throw things while on the bus.

--Talk quietly so the driver can listen for cars and emergency vehicle sirens.

--If there is an emergency, listen to the bus driver and follow instructions.

Don't leave it to the school to teach your child bus safety. These are lessons you must teach all of your children, no matter their ages, so that they come safely home to you every day.

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