It’s that time of the year again – back to school! All the teenagers are heading back to their regularly scheduled classes (a little reluctantly, probably, for most of them), and that can only mean one thing: we have to share the road with buses once again.
Now, personally, I don’t mind sharing the road with them; every now and then you get behind a bus full of particularly snarky and goofy kids who just want to elicit a reaction out of the person driving behind them, so you get some pretty hilarious exchanges when that happens.
For some people, though, sharing the road with these adolescent transport devices is bothersome, and some people just don’t know the etiquette that comes along with it.
That’s why we’re here to help.
School Bus Safety
With children being on board a school bus, it goes without saying that the school bus should be the safest vehicle on the road. However, reports show that there are still four to six school-age children who die each year on school vehicles.
Even if that’s less than one percent of all traffic fatalities nationwide, it still means that there’s a one percent chance that your child may not be safe at all even when riding a school bus. But yes, this is still 70% safer than when your child travels by car instead of a bus.
This is because according to the NHTSA, school buses are the most regulated vehicles on the road. They are designed to be safer than passenger vehicles in preventing crashes and injuries.
For example, school buses are designed in such a way that they should be highly visible on the road. They should also include safety features such as stop-sign arms, cross-view mirrors, and of course, flashing red lights. This is in addition to the required protective seating with high crush standards and rollover protection features.
Laws are also passed to protect students getting off and on a school bus. For example, regardless of the direction of approach, it is made illegal for drivers to pass a school bus while dropping off or picking up students.
Meanwhile, as another individual who wants to ensure the safety of these school kids, you can contribute by making sure that when driving in neighborhoods with school zones, you should always drive slowly and watch out for these young people on the road.
You can also try and be familiar with the different school bus laws in your state. This includes the “flashing signal light system”. This system is used by school bus drivers to alert other vehicles of their next actions.
With all this in mind, let’s see how we can share the road with school buses.
Do Not Pass
If you’re driving down the road, and you find yourself faced with a bus full of children that’s stopped to load or unload – you’ll know this is happening because their ‘STOP’ sign should be out, but another indicator is that there are kids walking through the road – kids, you should never, ever attempt to pass them.
Seriously, just wait. If you still don’t think you have the patience to do so, it may help you to know that it’s actually illegal in all 50 states to pass a bus that is stopped for this reason. Boom. Nobody likes tickets or jail.
You may have noticed that school buses are equipped with flashing lights which mean different things.
Yellow flashing lights are used to indicate to motorists on both sides of the road that they are preparing to come to a stop. Red flashing lights with an extended ‘STOP’ sign indicates that traffic moving in both directions must come to a full and complete stop, and may not pass for any reason until the sign has been retracted.
Again – it’s illegal if you do, so don’t even try.
Prepare To Stop…A Lot
Because they have many stops to hit on their journey to pick up or drop off kids in the early hours of the morning and late afternoon, buses stop many times throughout their route. This means that, if you’re behind them, you’ll stop a lot too, so be prepared for that.
Take extra time and caution when following them, and be sure not to follow too closely to avoid accidents or provoking the mischievous school children.
On that same note, it’s also helpful to keep in mind that buses often have to pick children up in the dark hours of the early morning, especially during the winter months, so be sure to keep a careful and watchful eye out for any children near the road waiting on the bus to arrive.
Be Defensive, Not Aggressive
School buses, statistically, have fewer accidents than normal vehicles, due to the driver’s extensive training in defensive driving. Because of this, it is up to you to anticipate dangerous situations, stops, and the mistakes of other drivers around you when you’re driving near them, or with children of your own in the vehicle.
Remember – defensive driving techniques only work well if everyone adheres to them, and your patience and defensive driving maneuvers will ensure that everyone gets to their destination safely.
Keep A Safe Distance
As mentioned before, not following too closely to a school bus will allow for extra protection to avoid accidents on the road.
The recommended distance to keep between your vehicle and the school bus is 10 feet, at all times, to allow for stops in all weather conditions – including clear skies.
It allows you to anticipate stops quickly and with clarity, and allows you to anticipate anything
else that may go wrong with you or any other driver and react accordingly.
Consider The Blind Spot
Think of a bus as a smaller transfer truck full of children for this scenario. Because the vehicle is long and larger than normal, and though they have large mirrors, they still have even larger blind spots.
Even if you can see their mirrors clearly, they may not be able to see you clearly, so this goes into giving them a little extra room. Slow down and allow the bus to change lanes if they begin to flash their blinkers, and keep a good distance away to allow for reaction time to these types of signals.
Children Are Unpredictable
This is especially true for smaller children, but teenagers can be a bit guilty of this as well. Recognize the fact that children are unpredictable and may not completely understand (or care, for the teens) the safety concerns associated with being dropped off and picked up next to the road; maybe they’ve dropped something and stopped to pick it up, maybe they are excited and running around near the stop – you just never know what’s going to happen.
Because of this, it’s crucial that you keep a careful lookout before beginning to proceed behind a school bus, and don’t just speed off; start at a low speed so you can anticipate anything, and then proceed as normal once you’re out of the ‘danger zone.’