When it comes to transporting our children to and from school each day, there should be no safer way than a school bus. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), students are 70 times more likely to arrive at school safely when taking the school bus rather than traveling by car.
Yet, school bus safety is a two-way street, and those who share the road must shoulder a portion of that responsibility—an area where more and more drivers are falling short.
Local news source, the Patch network, recently posted information to the Woodbridge, Va. area about observing the “Danger Zone” that exists when passing school buses. And a recent report from the Maryland State Department of Education revealed an alarming trend of car drivers ignoring school bus laws. As proof, school bus drivers in Maryland counted a total of 3,812 violations of the school bus stop arm rules in just one day this past April—up from 3,384 violations observed at the same time in 2017.
Such violations can have life-threatening consequences. On October 30, three children were killed and another was airlifted to a nearby hospital after being hit by a pickup truck while crossing a two-lane road to board their school bus. The preliminary investigation has already revealed that the bus had been stopped with its emergency lights flashing and stop arm out when the incident occurred.
If the driver had followed the basic safety laws regarding driving near school buses, this tragic incident could have been avoided entirely. Passing a bus with its stop-arm out is illegal in every one of the 50 U.S. states. Yet, many drivers are not aware of this or they feel their situation accounts for an exception—such as when a driver sees no students crossing the road and assumes it is safe to go. Unfortunately, no such leeway exists as drivers have a legal and ethical obligation to always abide by the safety laws in order to keep children safe.
Drivers on the road can use multiple safety precautions to decrease the likelihood of a school bus-related incident:
- Yellow flashing lights mean that the bus is preparing to stop. This means that other drivers should do the same.
- Red flashing lights and a stop-arm out mean that the bus has come to a complete stop and children may be getting on or off the bus.
- Drivers of cars on either side of the road need to stop their car completely and wait for the bus to stop displaying the stop-arm and flashing lights. Only when lanes of traffic are separated by an unpaved median or barrier may cars traveling in the opposite direction proceed only with caution.
- Each state has its own set of laws dictating specific aspects of stopping for a school bus. It is important to familiarize yourself with the laws of your state—remember that it is always better to err on the side of caution.
Finally, a few thoughts to keep in mind when approaching a stopped or slowing school bus:
- Kids are kids and they tend to do impulsive things; so be vigilant and always exercise great care
- Would you drive any differently if it were your loved ones boarding or exiting the bus? You should always act with the same level of cautiousness
Ultimately, it’s important to remember that these laws/rules exist for a reason—to protect the youngest members of our communities who are extremely vulnerable in such situations. Accidents like these should never happen, yet the tragic stories of those involved can, and should, serve as a learning experience for others. When you share the road with a school bus, the safety of its small passengers is literally in your hands—so do the right thing and come to a halt when the stop-arm is out!
Tom Curcio has devoted his career to representing people seriously injured or killed in car, pedestrian, bicycle, and truck crashes, and by dangerous dogs, unsafe products, and premises. He works tirelessly to obtain the compensation his clients are legally entitled to so they may rebuild their lives with dignity. Tom is the co-author of the book Evidence For The Trial Lawyer, and a much sought-after speaker on personal injury, trial practice, evidence, and professionalism.