Observe safety laws as buses return to roads
With the first day of school just a few days away – Aug. 8 for the city and Aug. 9 for county schools – motorists are asked to remember to be alert and observe safety precautions when sharing the road with school buses.
According to bus policies supplied by the Alabama Department of Education, drivers should be aware it is illegal in every state to pass a school bus stopped to load/unload students. Drivers should prepare stop when a school bus stops whether they are in the same lane of traffic or an oncoming lane, with the only exception being vehicles in the farthest lane on a four-lane highway divided by a median.
“If the bus is stopped and has a stop sign out, people need to stop for the bus,” reinforced Franklin County Schools transportation supervisor and assistant superintendent Donald Borden. “The most unsafe time for children riding the bus is loading and unloading.”
The state department also shared these safe travel tips:
- Learn the “flashing signal light system” school bus drivers use to alert motorists if they are going to stop to load/unload students. Yellow flashing lights indicate the bus is preparing to stop to load or unload children; motorists should slow down and prepare to stop their vehicles. Red flashing lights and extended stop arms indicate that the bus has stopped, and children are getting on or off. Motorists must stop their cars.
- Begin moving only when the red flashing lights are turned off, the stop arm is withdrawn and the bus begins to move.
- Watch out for young people who might be thinking about getting to school but might not be thinking about getting there safely.
- Slow down. Watch for children walking in the street, especially if there are no sidewalks in the neighborhood. Watch for children playing and gathering near bus stops.
- Be alert. Children arriving late for the bus may dart into the street without looking for traffic.
Franklin County Schools’ fleet includes 52 buses traveling all over the county. Borden said while must drivers are courteous to bus traffic and practice safety on the roadways, some bus drivers do report certain locations countywide where drivers don’t stop.
“We have reported it to our troopers and sheriff’s office, and they are good about monitoring those areas,” Borden said.
Drivers found to have violated this stopping law face the following penalties:
- 1st offense: $150-300 fine
- 2nd offense: $300-500 fine, 100 hours community service, 30-day driver license suspension
- 3rd offense: $500-1,000 fine, 200 hours community service, 90-day driver license suspension
- 4th offense: $1000-3,000 fine, Class C felony, one-year driver license suspension
School buses, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, are the safest form of highway transportation. However, the NHTSA reports, pedestrian fatalities of students loading and unloading school buses account for approximately three times as many school bus-related fatalities when compared to school bus occupant fatalities.
Studies have shown that many drivers illegally pass stopped school buses that are loading/unloading students, the NHTSA reports, adding that young children are most likely to be struck because they hurry to get on and off the bus; act before they think and have little experience with traffic; assume motorists will see them and will wait for them to cross the street; and don’t always stay within the bus driver’s sight.
Borden encouraged drivers to prioritize safety when sharing the roadway with a school bus.
“It’s loaded with children, and if there’s any question, they need to yield to the bus,” Borden said. He also tells his bus drivers to err on the side of safety. “Safety is the No. 1 goal in transporting our children to school.”
About 2,000 FCS students travel to and from school on a bus. Borden said motorists should expect bus traffic from 6:30-7:45 a.m. and then again between 3-4:15 p.m., as well a few on the roads during the school day for routes to and from the career technical center or for field trips.
Borden said bus safety also extends to bus operation to ensure safe and secure travel for students.
“Those buses are inspected monthly by our mechanic staff and yearly by the state. They have to pass inspection, or they’re not put on the route,” Borden said. Bus drivers are also required to carry out morning and afternoon inspections to ensure there are no safety issues. “It’s very important.”
Overall, guaranteeing safe trips to school for local students comes down to one simple practice, Borden urged: “Pay attention to those red flashing lights, and stop when they stop.”
Bus Safety Tips for Students
- Stand 10 feet from roadway while waiting for the bus.
- Do not cross the roadway until the bus driver has given you permission to do so.
- Check traffic (left, right, left) before crossing the roadway to board the bus or after unloading.
- Before turning left or right after exiting the bus, take five “giant steps” straight away from the bus.
- Look to the rear of the bus for oncoming vehicles as you exit the bus.
- Do not play in the loading/unloading zones.
- Be silent at railroad crossings.
- Always cross at least 10 feet in front of the bus, keeping eye contact with the bus driver – wait for his or her “all clear signal.”
- Never go back to retrieve anything you might have dropped or left behind.
- Never bend down near or under the bus.