Author: Attorney Tammy Ruble
Another school year has started, which means that many drivers will encounter school buses and school children while out and about. According to the August 2009 issue of Pediatrics, the journal of the America Academy of Pediatrics, each year approximately 900 children are killed as pedestrians. In addition, another 51,000 children are injured as pedestrians, and 5,300 of them are hospitalized due to the seriousness of their injuries. You can help reduce those numbers of child pedestrian accidents by following a few simple guidelines.
Know when you need to stop for a school bus. Virginia law 1 says that a driver must stop "when approaching from any direction, any school bus which is stopped on any highway, private road or school driveway for the purpose of taking on or discharging children, the elderly, or mentally or physically handicapped persons" and the driver must remain "stopped until all the persons are clear of the highway, private road or school driveway and the bus is put in motion." However, the driver is free to continue on his way if the school bus is stopped on the other side of a divided highway, an access road, or a driveway if the other roadway, access road, or driveway is separated from the roadway on which he is driving by a physical barrier or an unpaved area, such as a grassy median strip. In addition, "[t]he driver of a vehicle also need not stop when approaching a school bus which is loading or discharging passengers from or onto property immediately adjacent to a school if the driver is directed by a law-enforcement officer or other duly authorized uniformed school crossing guard to pass the school bus." Failure to stop for a school bus can result in a charge of reckless driving, with penalties of a fine of up to $2,500.00 and/or confinement in jail for up to twelve months. More importantly, passing a school bus creates an extreme hazard to the children on the bus. Leave yourself plenty of time to get to your destination. If you know you're likely to encounter a school bus along your planned route, depart a few minutes early to allow for the bus's stops.
Be alert for children doing the unexpected. Children are likely to run from between vehicles, or to dart across the street. Children's small size means that not only can they be hard to spot, but also that they have a hard time seeing your vehicle. The peripheral vision of children is not as well developed as that of adults, which can make it hard for them to see oncoming vehicles. Children lack an adult's experience in gauging speed and distance and might jump out in front of a vehicle because they believe they have more time to cross the street than they do. Keeping your vehicle at a slow speed will help you react quickly if necessary. Develop the habit of scanning the area to be alert for children in the vicinity. Be especially cautious when operating the vehicle in reverse, such as when exiting a driveway.
When in a school zone, obey all speed limits. Watch for crossing guards and follow their directions. Do not attempt to pass vehicles, change travel lanes, or make u-turns in school zones. Avoid using your cell phone, adjusting the vehicle temperature, or changing the radio station while in a school zone.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the number of pedestrian fatalities of children dropped by 49% between 1997 and 2007. If we all slow down just a bit and take a little extra care, hopefully that number will drop even more by 2017.
1 - Virginia Code §46.2-859
About the Author: Tammy Ruble is a long time Chesterfield resident and an attorney with the personal injury law firm Allen & Allen. She serves as a resource on issues in her special fields of expertise which include the crafting of Complaints and documents relating to infant settlements, wrongful death settlements, due diligence, and discovery.