It seems like only yesterday the kids were embarking on their summer vacations, and now, in the wink of an eye, it’s almost time to go back to school.

A large number of schoolchildren rely on a school bus to transport them to and from school. In fact, each year nearly 500,000 public school buses transport more than 25.1 million children over nearly 5 billion route miles. While school buses are touted as extremely safe, they are not failsafe. According to the National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA), between 1996 and 2006, 159 children—half of them between ages five and seven—were killed in school transportation-related accidents, representing less than one percent of child automobile-related fatalities. Whereas 73 percent were killed by the bus itself, 28 percent were struck and killed by other vehicles. Further, about half of all of these accidents occurred between 7-8 a.m. and 3-4 p.m.

Despite these seemingly large figures, according to the American School Bus Council, school buses are the safest mode of transportation for children who are traveling to and from school, largely due to their design. Reasons for this enhanced safety include the fact that school buses are the most regulated vehicle on our roads today as they are designed to prevent crashes and injuries.

Even though National School Bus Safety Week is celebrated during the third week of October, school bus safety should be a priority throughout the year. Here are some tips for staying safe.

How school buses are safer than other vehicles

School buses are designed to be highly visible thanks to their color, flashing red lights, and stop-sign arms. Additionally, protective seating, cross-view mirrors, rollover protection, and high crush standards further add to their safety. Specifically, school buses are designed with a compartmentalization system in which “closely spaced, well-padded seats with high seat backs help to keep children safe without the use of seat belts.” This is why—despite 49 states and Washington, D.C. having passed legislation requiring seat belt use in passenger vehicles and light trucks—school buses have no seat belts.

However, smaller school buses with a gross vehicle weight rating of 10,000 pounds or fewer—closer to light trucks—must be outfitted with either lap or lap/shoulder seat belts for all seated passengers.

Laws to protect school buses

Pursuant to the Highway Safety Act of 1970—which created the NHTSA—there are several laws on the books that govern school buses.

Perhaps the most important law involves the flashing light and stop-arm features. School buses have yellow flashing lights that indicate the bus is preparing to stop to load or unload passengers. In such cases, motorists should slow down, similar to a yellow traffic light. Once the bus driver has turned on the red flashing lights and extended the stop arms, motorists in both directions must stop their vehicles until the bus driver turns off the lights, withdraws the arm, and begins to move again.

Other areas of legislation include definitions of a school bus and a school-related event, which type of buses are under federal regulation, certification of new purchased vehicles, the number of passengers allowed on school buses, the use of alternate vehicles for transporting students, and which types of schools are required to adhere to said legislation.

Tips for safe school bus travel

The biggest risk to schoolchildren who ride the bus is walking to and from the bus. Thus, to increase their children’s safety, parents should teach their children to:

Arrive at the bus stop at least five minutes early

Take the safest route to the bus stop and walk the same way each day

Look left, right, and left before and while crossing the street

Not cross the street from between bushes or parked cars—always cross at a corner or crosswalk

Stand at least six feet away from the curb and wait patiently

Wait until the bus stops completely and the bus driver says that it is safe to board or exit the bus and do so in a single file line

Use the handrails to prevent falling

Never cross or walk behind a school bus

Cross the street at least ten feet in front of the bus so the driver can see them

Inform the driver if they drop something under the bus before picking it up

Always meet their parents—or whoever is picking them up—on the same side of the street that the bus loads and unloads passengers

Remain seated and keep their heads and arms inside the bus at all times

Not engage in horseplay, shouting, or throwing objects

Replace loose ties and drawstrings on jackets and hoodies with Velcro, buttons, or snaps

Safety is not limited to passengers. To ensure safety, bus drivers should:

Be vigilant for any pedestrians or cyclists in the area, especially when backing up

Learn and obey all school bus laws

Learn and use the flashing signal light/stop-arm systems

Follow the speed limit

Come to a complete stop at all intersections

Leave early so as not to rush

Use headlights—even during the day—to improve visibility.

If you have any questions or require additional information, please contact Venus Poe today at 864.963.0310 or fill out an online case evaluation form. We have offices in Greenville and Fountain Inn, South Carolina to better serve you. Knowing your rights is imperative to ensure you are fully compensated for your injuries and other losses. Also, there is no obligation or charge for our initial consultation to see if we can assist you with your case.

The information you obtain in this article is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should not read this article to propose specific action or address specific circumstances, but only to give you a sense of general principles of law. Application of these general principles to particular circumstances must be done by a lawyer who has spoken to you in confidence, learned all relevant information, and explored various options. Before acting on these general principles, you should hire a lawyer licensed to practice in the jurisdiction in which you may have a case.