By: Kevin Borrup, DrPH, JD, MPA, Associate Director, Connecticut Children’s Injury Prevention Center
Each year around this time, Connecticut Children’s Injury Prevention Center and our Safe Kids Connecticut program start to receive calls from parents concerned about some aspect of sending their children back to school, or to school for the very first time. The good news is that, for the most part, schools are great places full of caring staff who want your child to grow and succeed. Once your child makes it to school, it is one of the safest places they can possibly be. I think that most parents agree, so most of the calls we get concern some aspect of the getting to school, especially taking the school bus.
First Things First: Trust the Bus
If your child is assigned to a bus route, have them take the school bus. Do not drive them to school. A child is 70 times more likely to arrive at school safely in a bus than in a car! This statistic comes from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and they know their stuff. Also, if you do drive you are just contributing to the congestion and hazard created by all those parents who do drop their kids off.
Rules for the Bus Stop
Children should get to their bus stop early, five minutes before the bus is scheduled to arrive. Parents should supervise young children at the bus stop, making sure they know the rules.
- Children should line up or stand three giant foot steps away from the curb.
- No pushing or shoving. Children should keep their hands to themselves.
- Children should remain waiting until the bus comes to a complete stop and opens its doors. Children can then safely approach and board the bus.
- Children should board the bus one at a time, holding on to the handrail as they step up into the bus to prevent falling. Once on the bus, children should find their seat and stay in their seat until the bus ride is over.
Buses are really safe vehicles, but in the case of a crash your child will only be protected if they are sitting in their seat. Buses rely on compartmentalization rather than seat belts. This only works if a child is seated fully in the seat with no body parts in the aisle. Staying in your seat also means not sticking heads or arms out of any windows!
The Ride Home
Now let’s talk about the ride home. The same rules apply: a child should sit in their seat and remain seated until school bus comes to a complete stop.
Once your child is off the school bus, if they have to cross the road they should cross in front of the school bus, never behind it. If a child crosses behind the school bus, the bus driver may not know where they are and could turn off the flashing red lights. If so, a car might attempt to pass the school bus creating another risky situation in which a child could get hit. Because of this, children should always cross in front of the school bus, making sure they are at least 10 feet in front of the bus and have made eye contact with the bus driver to make sure the bus driver sees them.
An Important Tip
I have one final tip that parents can share with their children. Occasionally, children drop stuff. If your child drops a pencil, a notebook, or something else as they get off the bus and it lands under or near the bus, tell your child to let the school bus driver know about it before they try to pick the item up. If a child bends down to pick something up and the bus driver cannot see them, the driver may assume that it is okay to leave. When this happens it creates a dangerous situation that puts a child at risk for being run over by the school bus.
A Message for Drivers
This blog would not be complete without including a more general message to all drivers. Children are returning to school and this means that you will start to see more and more children on the roads as you are trying to get to work. Give yourself some extra time to get to work as school starts so that you are not in a rush.
If you back out of your driveway, be extra careful to look for children on their way to school or the bus stop. On residential streets where you can see children walking, biking, or waiting for the bus, slow down. If you see a vehicle stopped ahead of you for no apparent reason, do not speed around it; the car may be waiting for a child to cross. If you must, lay on your horn instead.
Finally, school buses are big, yellow, and they have flashing lights. They are impossible to miss! If you see those yellow flashers, slow down and be prepared to stop. If the flashers are red, traffic in BOTH directions must stop. Almost all buses have cameras and if you don’t stop you may find yourself talking to the police.
Together we can work together to make sure that every day is safe day for children to go to school.