Question of the Week

August 24, 2009


As the schools across the country begin their new year, many students will once again be depending on school buses to get them to and from school safely.

"The design and construction of today's school buses are a direct result of both the FMVSSs [Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards] which apply to school buses and the guidelines adopted by the National Conferences on School Transportation, as well as some requirements that are unique to particular states or local school districts. While today's school buses do not look much different than their predecessors of 30-40 years ago, they are dramatically different. The improvements made to school buses in the past decades, as well as improvements in driver training, school bus maintenance, and school bus operating procedures, have been responsible for the outstanding safety record of school transportation."

While school bus accidents make the news when they happen, statistics show that school buses are still safer than cars.

"Every year school buses carry some 24 million students and collectively travel more than 4 billion miles. Considering how many kids the buses carry and the distance they cover, deaths on the road are extremely rare. School buses have a rate of 0.2 deaths per 100 million miles traveled. The rate of deaths in automobiles is eight times higher."

While the fatality rates are higher in cars, there are still people who think school buses could be safer. One district in Wisconsin recently purchased five new school buses with seat belts.

"Timothy Cullen, a School Board member who led the [school bus] seat-belt efforts, said field trips and extracurricular programs are ideal uses for the five buses. 'Those are important uses for those buses. It is risky when a kid isn't belted in, but there are certain trips that are more risky than others, such as the field trip down I-90 to Madison. I am hoping they will use these five buses as much as possible to handle those trips (that) take higher speeds to get there,' he said. Cullen, who during his terms as a state legislator led Wisconsin's efforts requiring seat-belt use in all vehicles, brought the idea to the board because 'I never understood why, if we insist on a law that people put seat belts on in their cars and every other place a kid goes, we then put 40 or 50 of them in a big yellow hunk of metal and then don't put seat belts in them.'"

There are cases of individual school districts taking the initiative, and there are also areas of the country that have legislated seat belts on school buses at a state-wide level.

"Currently, five states — California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey and New York have seat-belt requirements for school buses. Texas will require them on buses purchased after September 2010."

If the school bus has a seat belt, the safest thing to do is to use it. Even if the bus does not have a seat belt, there are things that students can do to make their ride safer.

"As with riding in a car, the best thing to do on the bus is buckle up (if the bus has seat belts). ... And play it cool when you're on the bus: No jumping, running around, or throwing things. This can make it hard for the driver to concentrate, and kids might get hurt."

It makes sense that behavior which distracts the driver is likely to make the ride more dangerous. Even before getting on the bus, there are safety precautions that can be taken to improve rider safety.

"When you see the bus driving up, everyone waiting should get into a line. The line should start about five giant steps (or around 10 feet, or 3 meters) from the curb and go back from the street, rather than down the side of the street. Wait until the bus stops and the driver opens the door and says it's OK to step onto the bus. This is important! The driver is the only one who can really see all the traffic out on the road and make sure that it's safe for you to get on the bus. (If you must cross the street to board the bus, be sure to wait for the bus to come to a complete stop and for the driver to flash the red lights.) Once aboard, be sure to listen to the driver's instructions, and even if you're in a hurry to grab a seat with your friends, don't rush and push."

Once on the bus, it is important to not only behave in a way that will allow the driver to focus on the road, but also in a way that respects fellow riders.

  • "Stay in your seat
  • Keep the noise level down
  • Keep head, hands, and feet inside the bus
  • Don't throw things inside the bus or out the windows
  • No eating or drinking on the bus
  • Keep the bus clean
  • No smoking or tobacco on the bus
  • Don't be destructive
  • Be courteous
  • Cooperate with the driver
  • Stay out of the 'Danger Zone'--anywhere within 10 feet of the bus
  • Don't ever try to get anything you left on the bus after you have already gotten off. We'll do our best to ensure personal property is returned.
  • Don't try to pick up anything dropped underneath the bus—things can be replaced, children can't.
  • Always follow the driver's directions about how to cross the street. Be alert to traffic, look both ways, and always walk in front of the bus."
    Durham School Services

Questions of the Week:
What do you need to know about bus safety even if you don't take a bus to school? What can you do help yourself and your friends stay safe when traveling by bus? What can students, teachers, bus drivers, parents, and school districts do to help keep everyone safe on and around school buses? How do the responsibilities for each group vary? What responsibilities does everyone share?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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