School Bus Safety: Statistics Point to Alarming Trend

Some of the biggest injuries to students riding the bus to and from school occur, not when the bus is moving, but when students are loading and off-loading. From 2006 to 2015, 301 school-age children died in school-transportation-related crashes.  Of those 301 fatalities, 102 children – almost 1/3 of those who died – were killed while they were approaching or leaving the bus. Fifty-four children were killed while they were occupying the school bus, 137 were occupants of other vehicles, and eight were on bicycles.

A recent tragedy in Indiana is receiving national attention and is prompting legislators to consider what can be done to keep schoolchildren safe.  In Indiana, three children were killed and one was injured while crossing the highway to board their school bus. At the time, the bus was stopped with its stop lights on, and the stop arm extended. 

As Indiana state legislators look at what can be done to prevent tragedies like these, some are considering stop-arm cameras, or cameras attached to the stop arm of a school bus. Much like red-light cameras, stop-arm cameras automatically record activity in order to capture violations.

Already, 100 Richmond Public School buses are equipped with stop-arm cameras, as are many buses in northern Virginia communities like Arlington, Fairfax County and the City of Falls Church. The penalty for passing a school bus in Virginia carries a fine of $250. 

According to WWBT Reports, 5,474 violators were caught by RPS stop-arm cameras during the 2017-2018 school year. To date, the district has brought in a total revenue of $957,117 in penalties and fines.  And that is just in the City of Richmond.

Just across the Potomac River in Montgomery County, Maryland, districts with stop-arm cameras are also seeing alarming results.

According to a 2018 Alexandria News article, nearly 51,000 drivers were ticketed and fined, some habitually, for illegally passing school buses during the past two school years. This resulted in $10,721,375 in revenue from citations. 

Most of these violations occur within the Danger Zone, or the area within 10 feet on all sides of the bus where children are hard to see. Knowing when to stop for a school bus if you are a driver, as well as what safety precautions to take if you are a passenger, is vital.

  • What Drivers Need to Know
    • According to the Virginia Drivers Manual, a driver must stop for stopped school buses with flashing red lights and an extended stop sign when approaching from any direction on a highway, private road or school driveway. Drivers must stop and remain stopped until all persons are clear and the bus starts moving. Drivers must also stop if the bus is loading or unloading passengers, even if the signals on the school bus are not activated. 
    • However, drivers do not have to stop if they are traveling in the opposite direction on a roadway with a median or barrier dividing the road and the bus is on the opposite side of the median or barrier
  • What Passengers Need to Know
    • Children should stay 10 feet away from the bus (or as far away as they can), and should never go behind the school bus. They should take ten giant steps in front of the bus before crossing, so they can be seen by the driver.

The ‘Most Vulnerable’

Safety experts say that riding the bus to and from school is still the safest option.  According to the American School Bus Council, students are about 70 times more likely to get to school safely on a bus.  However, there is an alarming trend supported by data and statistics that drivers routinely pass stopped school buses, and that the consequences of this behavior can be fatal.

In an interview with CNN, Charlie Hood, executive director of the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services, or NASDPTS, said that children “are most vulnerable when they are pedestrians.”

Case in point: every year, the NASDPTS conducts a one-day count of illegal school bus passing incidents throughout the U.S. This year, school bus drivers in 38 states recorded 83,944 incidents during that one-day count, suggesting that as many as 15 million vehicles could be illegally passing school buses and their students each 180-day school year.

Knowing when to stop for a bus if you are a driver, and how to approach and leave the bus if you are a passenger is imperative.