Bus Safety Basics

Bus Basics
Ways to Stay Safe
from the National Association of
School Psychologists


Approximately 400,000 yellow school buses serve American elementary and high school students. In all, about 22.5 million school-age children ride yellow school buses to and from school. After-school activities provide an estimated 5 million additional daily student rides. The American Public Transit Association also estimates that public transportation provides an additional 900 million student rides per year. This makes school transportation the single largest system of public transportation in the United States, resulting in over 94.2 billion total pupil-passenger miles per year.

Most of us can recall at least one incident in which a student was harmed from some avoidable mishap that occurred while riding or walking to the school bus. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an average of 41 school-age children are killed in school bus-related traffic accidents each year. Numerous injuries also have occurred when riding, boarding or unloading from a school bus.

What influences bus safety?
While many regard school bus transportation as one of the safest forms of transportation, accidents do happen. Children are typically not under the supervision of teachers or parents when riding the school bus. Such unstructured situations often lead to misbehavior and episodes of poor judgment on the part of some students. Disruptive behavior may distract the driver or may encourage a student to take unnecessary risks, such as waving an arm out a school bus window.

School bus drivers often report that they are overwhelmed by what they see as students' lack of respect and failure to follow school bus rules and regulations. Typically, a large school bus transports 54 students, a number of students far in excess of what a certified teacher would be permitted to supervise without assistance. Yet, school bus drivers are confronted with this task on a daily basis across the country.

Of students who have died in school bus-related incidents, almost two thirds were killed by school buses, 6% by vehicles functioning as school buses and 30% by other vehicles involved in crashes with school buses. Five- and six-year-olds represented more than half of all school-aged pedestrians killed by school buses over the past ten years. Of all school-aged children killed in school bus accidents, nearly half died enroute home from school. "Inattention" and "failure to yield" were factors most often reported by police for school bus drivers striking school-age pedestrians.

The federal Government mandates seat belts in all small buses (under 10,000 lb.), and some states now mandate seat belts on the larger school busses as well. Ironically, studies dating back to 1969 have repeatedly concluded that compartmentalization provides better protection in accidents than two-point seat belts on school buses. To date, there have been no studies conducted on three-point seat belts and safety.

School Bus Safety: Prevention
Prevention is the best solution to the issue of school-bus safety. Children and their parents, as well as educators and community members, need to be aware of the risks involved with children and school buses. Motorists also need to obey all state regulations regarding driving in the vicinity of school buses and their designated drop-off zones.

A good way to raise the level of awareness in the community is through the implementation of a school bus safety program. "Operation School Bus Safety" is one such program available from the National PTA1 and Navistar International, designed to help communities improve bus safety records and protect children. "Be Cool. Follow the Rules" is another program sponsored by PTA and the International Truck and Engine Corporation, promoting bus safety through TV public service announcements, magazine ads, and materials.

School Bus Safety Week (sponsored by the National Association for Pupil Transportation) is held each year during the third week of October. This is a good time to highlight school bus safety programs. In general, children should understand that riding on the bus is a privilege, that the bus is an extension of school, and they are expected to behave as well as they would in their classroom. Parents and educators wishing to initiate a prevention program should contact their local PTA for information on "Operation School Bus Safety" and "Be Cool, Follow the Rules." Educators and parents can also help by reminding students to follow the simple safety rules outlined below:

School Bus Safety Rules

On the way to the bus:

· Be alert, arrive at your stop at least five minutes early.

· Always obey all traffic lights and signals.

· Plan to walk with schoolmates whenever possible, facing the traffic.

· When crossing streets, always cross at crosswalks and intersections.

· Look both ways before crossing the street.

At the bus stop:

· Stand back from the curb.

· Don't push or shove when entering or exiting and always use the steps and hand rail.

· Always obey the bus driver and wait for the driver's signal before crossing.

· Always cross at least 10 feet in front of the school bus.

· Never, never crawl under the bus.

When riding the bus:

· Take your seat quietly and quickly, remain seated when the bus is moving and don't get out of your seat when the bus is moving.

· Keep your feet on the floor and never ever extend your hands, arms, head or any object out the window of a bus.

· Talk in a quiet voice, be courteous to the driver and schoolmates, and try not to distract the driver through misbehavior.


Parenting Start

This article was originally written by Henry J. Srednicki, Ph.D,. NCSP, for Helping Children at Home and School: Handouts for Your School Psychologist (National Association of School Psychologists, 1998). He is Principal of McKenzie Elementary School in East Rutherford, NJ, a school psychologist, and also maintains a private practice working with children and their families.
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